§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
This is the third occasion this year—but the first time in this Session—on which we have discussed the subject of the prevention of crime. It is right that we should. There is public concern about law and order, and the Government and the House share that concern.
Crime is not a new problem; nor is it a national one. Previous generations have had to face the difficulties of law and order, and it is an international problem. It is important that we have a rational discussion about the matter based on information and not emotion. I say at the beginning that the speech to his party conference by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) earned full marks for emotion, but it was much weaker on fact and analysis.
I want to increase the flow of information on matters of law and order. Therefore, I shall publish soon a fresh descriptive document on the Prison Service as well as a review of the development of criminal justice policy over the past 10 years.
This afternoon I want to survey the general size of the problem and then look at the resources—financial, legal, 315 physical and human—that we have available to deal with it. I should like first to say a word about criminal statistics.
As to the amount of crime in this country, it is a disturbing fact that the number of serious offences known to the police has increased by 62 per cent. in the 10 years up to the end of 1976. The first six months of this year show an increase of 11 per cent. over the same period last year, and this increase is most marked for the most worrying offences, such as violence against the person and robbery. The rate of increase has varied according to the offence concerned. There have even been decreases in some offences. Sexual offences, for instance, have been decreasing steadily for several years and continue to do so. For this we must be thankful, although it remains true that the overall trend continues to show a steady increase.
It is not possible from the statistics to say that matters have got either notably worse or notably better under any particular political party. This is not surprising. The level of recorded crime charts a very complex human situation to which there is no simple solution. All major Western societies have experienced similar trends.
In the face of these facts the question is what resources we have deployed. I turn first to police strength. At the end of September 1977 the number of police officers in England and Wales was 108,700. Three years ago, on 30th September 1974, the strength was 100,800. There has, therefore, been a net increase of nearly 8,000 policemen over the last three years.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)rose—
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)rose—
§ Mr. Rees
I shall qualify that, but I have said that in total there are 8,000 more, and that is a fact. Three years ago the deficiency on establishment was 12.5 per cent. Now it is slightly more than 8 per cent., and this again would have been less but for wastage, which has been increasing in recent months. So far this year there has been a net loss of 772. October and November are normally good months for recruitment, and we shall see what turns up.
316 The recruitment rate is still reasonably satisfactory, taking into account seasonal variations, but the present trend in wastage is disturbing. There is no one cause, but the major factors are losses during the early stages of training because individuals are not suited to a police career, pay, the ability to obtain other work, and unpleasant aspects of police work, including shift duty and the increasing rate of violence against police officers. The result is that we are replacing experienced officers with inexperienced new entrants at a rate which, if it continues for long, is bound to have an effect on efficiency.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
Clearly the Home Secretary is anxious to lay all the facts before the House. In dealing with wastage is he referring substantially to male police officers? In dealing with recruitment can he reveal the increasing number of women police officers?
§ Mr. Rees
Undoubtedly there is a wastage of young men after four or five years when they have been trained. At the other end there is a wastage of very experienced officers, and that is not solely because of other job opportunities—I make the point as it is put to me—but because, when the man is getting within the retirement range, he tends to retire earlier these days because of very generouse retirement pensions and job opportunities outside. That is a fact.
A growing number of young women are joining the police, and I am glad of that. They do extraordinarily well in the training schools, and there are many jobs that they can do as well as any policeman. But there are some jobs that they cannot do as well as a policeman, and that is a factor in the situation. I understand, although I have no figures, that there tends to be a wastage rate among young girls joining when they are in their middle twenties, for the obvious reasons.
The distribution of police strength is a factor that has to be taken into account. I should emphasise that the position is not the same over the whole country. The Metropolitan Police strength at the end of September this year was 22,126, with 4,502 vacancies. Nearly half the total vacancies in England and Wales are in the Metropolitan Police. But, even 317 so, the Metropolitan strength is 1,500 higher than three years ago.
The six metropolitan county forces have gained 2,400 together and the non-metropolitan county forces 3,815 over the three years. But even here there are variations. Twenty-four forces in England and Wales have deficiencies of less than 5 per cent., and only four have deficiencies of over 10 per cent.—the City, the Metropolitan, West Midlands, and Derbyshire.
I should like to say a word now about police pay. The House will recall that special transitional arrangements were made for the police when phase 1 of the present pay policy first came into effect. They had 30 per cent. rather than the £6. In July 1976 their negotiating machinery broke down when the Police Federations for England, Wales and Northern Ireland walked out of the Police Council. One of the problems in my time as Home Secretary has been that there has been negotiating machinery. That is a factor that I have had to take into account. This was why the Government set up the inquiry under Lord Edmund-Davies into the negotiating machinery.
Obviously, we must have proper negotiating arrangement; that take full account of the interests and views of all the parties concerned. Whatever happens at the end of the day and wit inquiries, the local authorities supply about 30 per cent. of the money. The local authorities have a rôle to play as things are, and I cannot ignore the local authorities in wage negotiation for the police as it is at the moment.
At the same time there is the problem of the rôle of the Police Federations themselves. For example, they are not a trade union. Their members may not strike. They are regulated closely under statute. The Government agreed some time ago that there should be an inquiry into the constitution of the Federations. Although the Government were prepared for the inquiry to proceed as soon as possible, the Federations wanted it to take place over a reasonably long time-scale, and I have no complaint about that. It follows, as I was glad to agree recently, that the Federations should conduct a survey of 318 their members' views on the issues that the inquiry would cover.
Against this background, I am naturally pleased to be able to report some progress on police pay. The House will know that the Police Federations submitted a statement of claim on pay which sought to show that increases of between 78 per cent. and 104 per cent. were justified. The Federations compared the position in the pay league in which they saw the police, following the Royal Commission in 1960, with what they occupy now.
Although comparisons of this sort are notoriously difficult to sustain, there can be no doubt that the job of the police has changed in various ways over the years. In these circumstances an offer was made to the Federations on 27th October of an immediate increase in pay of 10 per cent. of earnings, in line with pay policy, and an independent, wide-ranging inquiry into pay and a number of other matters.
The inquiry will be undertaken by the review body which was set up a short while ago and to which I referred to consider the negotiating machinery. I should like to take this opportunity to say how grateful the Government are to Lord Edmund-Davies, the chairman of the review body, for being prepared to take on the very much greater task now before it. He will need more help, and we are inviting other persons to join the review body.
I told the Federations on 27th October that the Government are willing to accept the conclusions of the inquiry on pay. I added that the committee of inquiry would be told that it was free to recommend a degree of phasing, and the Government will also want to consider phasing of the implementation of the recommendations. Although detailed terms of reference have yet to be fixed, the inquiry will consider the levels of remuneration appropriate for the police in the light of such factors as developments in the responsibilities and work load, the stresses and dangers to which the police are exposed, the need to ensure adequate police strength. and the restrictions to which the police are subject.
I should, for the record, add that on 27th October the Federations also considered an offer on pay similar to mine 319 from the official side of the Police Council, together with a proposal that the inquiry on pay should he carried out in the Police Council, which considered that it could be done there much more quickly. It is, of course, a fact that the Council has already carried out a survey of the situation which would have allowed it to make good progress, but the Federations chose to accept the offer of an independent inquiry and the immediate increase of pay that I have mentioned.
I should simply like to say, bearing in mind all that was said before agreement was reached, that I am pleased that we have at last been able to get away from the atmosphere of the past 15 months and turn our minds in a constructive fashion to the future.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Does the Home Secretary recognise that the appointment of Lord Edmund-Davies both to deal with the Police Council matters and to deal with this very much wider review of pay, among other things, is very welcome to the police service? Will he confirm to the House that it is within Lord Edmund-Davies's terms of reference to make an interim report on pay and, moreover, that the Government would be prepared to implement the results of that interim report as soon as may be in the New Year?
§ Mr Rees
With respect, I said that there was an interim report. That is what the previous section of my speech was all about. when I said that the review body will be free to make recommendations on phasing and that the Government will also be free to consider them. It is an interim report. Those were the words that I used.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
Will the Home Secretary confirm to the House that the terms of reference of the inquiry will enable recommendations to be made, whether they are implemented or not, outside the 320 Government's pay policy? This is not what is happening in the case of the Armed Forces, which is somewhat similar, although I know that we are only discussing the police today. Will the terms of reference allow the inquiry to make recommendations without consideration of Government pay policy?
§ Mr. Rees
We reached an agreement with the Federations. We are discussing the recommendations to put to Lord Justice Edmund-Davies. Now that we have started discussions and negotiations, they are better conducted in that way than across the Floor of the House. The Police Federations have taken what I said to them in the spirit in which it was said. I think we should be better to leave it alone now. I am sure that everybody in the House was pleased that there was not a police strike and, as we are doing well in that respect, let us see what happens.
§ Mr. Onslow
I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's attitude, but why is it one that he expects the House to share? Are we not entitled to be taken into his confidence in this matter at all?
§ Mr. Rees
It is not a matter of confidence. I have said that the extended inquiry will take some time to complete, that we hope to make an early start, and that we have come to agreement. I have put to the House what was decided last week. But if the hon. Gentleman really believes that negotiations on the recommendations can take place on the Floor of the House, I say to him that that is not the way that proper negotiations should be held. I think that we are doing it the right way.
We are already spending over £250 million more in real terms on law and order services than in 1974. There will be an extra £9 million next year, mainly for civilian support for the police, to restore substantially cuts in the police cadet scheme, to make more provision for vehicles and equipment, to assist prison manpower, and to extend and strengthen community service schemes.
321 But this is only a small part of the Government's increased help. The additional £9 million is included in a much larger sum of about £50 million. The balance is to cover the increasing cost of the fundamental law and order services, in particular the higher costs of police and fire pensions and the running costs of courts and prisons. In addition, £5 million will be available next year for capital expenditure on the police, courts and prison schemes.
Altogether, there is an extra £55 million available next year for law and order services above the real increase that has taken place in the past three years. Given the whole discussion about the need to contain public expenditure, and the successful efforts of the Government to do so, these sums are the best possible evidence of the priority the Government give to law and order issues.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
My right hon. Friend mentioned Derbyshire as being one of the areas in need of greater numbers of police. Is he aware that when the Labour Party lost control of the county council in May this year the police service had a fairly substantial budget? The Tories and their allies, who took over then, have slashed the police budget by approximately £100,000, all in the name of trying to cut the rate by 0.3p.
§ Mr. Rees
That is an interesting point and it shows that some people talk differently in opposition as opposed to when they are in office.
The additional resources for the law and order programme will allow police civilian staff to rise by about 800 by May next year. Most hon. Members have written to me about civilian staff, and in my view it is essential that these additional staff should be used in posts which give direct operational support to the police in the fight against crime. I hope that they will not be used indiscriminately but in the best possible way. 322 There is also provision for an increase of 1,100 in the average number of cadets. A total of 900 new cadets have been taken on so far in 1977, and the increases should mean that about 1,600 more can be taken on in 1978.
The Expenditure Committee in its Ninth Report recommended that there should be a qualitative and quantitative review of the needs for cadets. I have invited the Police Advisory Board to set up a working party to do this, and I hope that it will make a thorough review of the cadet system. Again, it is not enough to talk about police cadets. It is a matter of where police cadets, in different parts of the country, can perform the greatest function as the seed corn for the future and where, meanwhile, the need for growth in police manpower is greatest. Those are the areas with the high percentage deficiencies.
The additional resources are sufficient to allow some relaxation of the restrictions we had to ask police authorities to impose on vehicles, goods and services for the police and on some increases in particularly important aspects of the common services which we provide for the police. The Government have, therefore, throughout done their best to shield the police service, recognising its importance. They have tried to do so responsibly, while preserving a coherent economic strategy.
I should say a word about what has happened at Grunwick today. This is the latest information I have. I did not feel that the House would have wanted me to press the Metropolitan Police in the course of the morning to come up with accurate figures. These are the figures that I have so far.
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis tells me that 8,000 demonstrators were assembled outside the Grunwick factory this morning and 4,000 police officers were deployed. There has been considerable disorder as a result of which there have been 108 arrests and a number of injuries, which led to nine police officers going to hospital. I have no figure yet—it has not been obtainable—about any of those taking part in the picket being taken to hospital.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) was on a BBC radio programme this morning entitled "Today" and in the course of an interview said that the police were responsible for the trouble? Does he repudiate that statement entirely? Will he tell his hon. Friends of the Left that any attempts to undermine public confidence in the police can only undermine law and order, and it is time that they stopped?
§ Mr. Rees
I will repudiate the statement of anybody who denies that. I have said so. But I also say that I share the views expressed in the Early-Day Motion in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) and others. I have no sympathy for an employer who has resolutely refused to abide by the normal processes of arbitration and conciliation, nor for those who have latched on to this speech as an excuse for provoking violence, particularly violence against the police.
The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) asked me whether I stood by the police. Does he stand by what has been said in courts of law and in inquiries? I stand by the police. Does the hon. Gentleman stand by that? In this House, we have to have it both ways, but the hon. Gentleman always wants it one way.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
My right hon. Friend has brought up Grunwick. As one who was there in a non-violent capacity, may I add to what has been said by the Home Secretary and by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches? Let me say to my right hon. Friend that, as a person who holds the police in high regard, I was absolutely appalled by the degree of violence which 324 they showed to many pickets, those nonviolent and perhaps those violent.
§ Mr. Marshall
There was wanton destruction of banners which were causing no damage either to passers-by or to the police. Those banners were gleefully ripped, gleefully smashed and the tatters thrown to the wind.
§ Mr. Marshall
They were not being used as weapons. Will hon. Gentlemen opposite listen to what actually happened? I asked my right hon. Friend if I could come to see him on this matter—to which request I am sure he will agree —and, when I do, I shall urge him to have a public inquiry into the violence and vandalism executed by the police force of the Metropolitan area this morning.
§ Mr. Rees
I say to my hon. Friend that the police have a most difficult job. They have the task of ensuring both that those who wish to picket peacefully are able to do so and that those who wish to go on working can do so. Through this House we passed the new procedure for hearing complaints against the police, procedure of a strongly independent nature. If anyone has any complaints against the police, there is a proper procedure that can be used. There is a proper procedure, not to come through me, but to go direct to the Commissioner. This House thought that that was a good idea, and I recommend to my hon. Friend that we use that procedure.
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Would my right hon. Friend not agree that what happened today at Grunwick bears out what many people have said already about the omission from the Gracious Speech of any reference to an attempt to reform the law of picketing? Such a reform is needed, because people on both sides in these violent confrontations are unable to see what the law actually is. At the moment very few people know.
§ Mr. Rees
A study is taking place on that very point. Many people involved in the trade union movement over many years realise the difficulty of definition which has shown itself in this House on 325 previous occasions. It is not an omission Just because of parliamentary time, though that is always a problem. It is a difficult matter. It would be a mistake to legislate for years to come purely on the basis of the Grunwick dispute, which is not typical. I simply say that it is being looked at, but that at it is not an easy matter.
I felt that I should say a word about public order in view of the National Front marches and the whole issue of public order, which has loomed large in my work during the recess. The Public Order Act of 1936 arose out of pre-war Fascism and a demand from the Labour Party Conference of that year.
The law is quite clear. All requests for a ban on a march originate from the local chief constable—or, in London, the Commissioner—and he is is obliged to make his decision on public order and not political grounds. As Home Secretary I have no powers whatsoever to initiate a ban on a march. If right hon. and hon. Members read the debate in the House at the time, they will realise that those on the Opposition Benches at the time—my party—felt very strongly against allowing a chief constable or a policeman to make a political decision.
The historical evidence of the use of these powers under the Public Order Act is that in practice it is extremely difficult to stop at a ban on a particular march by a particular organisation. In the past the pressures have led to the banning of all marches in an everwidening area over a prolonged period and all kinds of reputable events may be caught up by this broad approach.
It may well be that the Public Order Act, which was passed about 40 years ago, is in need of revision. We are considering the points that have been made in the recess. A whole range of proposals has been suggested—including that advance notice should be given of processions. Right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland constituencies will know that that has long been the practice there. It has been suggested that there should be greater powers to ban particular marches and that I as Home Secretary should have powers to ban marches of my own volition.
When I have to make decisions I look at charts and take advice about the pub- 326 lic order aspect. If I were making a political decision, I would need no advice from any official, but would be taking the decision on my own subjective views. But the subjective views of any Home Secretary are not, in my view, necessarily the best.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Is it not essential that in the consideration that the Home Secretary has given he distinguishes between politics and racialism? Does he agree that there must be complete freedom of speech and assembly for all parties, Left, Right and centre, but no such freedom for racialist parties? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not? "] I say that because racial incitement is already a crime under the Race Relations Act. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that there should be a ban on all marches and public meetings by the National Front since it is a self-proclaimed racialist party? Its banners at Lewisham said "The National Front is a racialist front ".
§ Mr. Rees
This matter needs to be considered, but if one reached the point of proscribing an organisation, it would be very easy for that organisation to change its name. We know from experience that that has happened. There is then a royal road of banning everything under that name.
It is not easy, particularly if the new organisation never mentions racialism, but talks about some aspect of the EEC. It is not easy to handle such a matter under the Public Order Act, but it is in terms of race relations that we should look at it.
On 13th June an amendment to the Public Order Act came into force under the race relations legislation of 1976. It is for the Attorney-General to authorise prosecutions under this new law and we shall study carefully its effectiveness. This is the aspect of the matter to which we should be putting our minds, as well as the Public Order Act. I am looking at the court cases, for which I have no responsibility, to see whether there is anything that should be done in that direction.
On the whole matter of race relations, again on Saturday I was picketed by the National Front—I seem to have been picketed by a wide variety of people in my time. When dealing with such persons 327 we have to counter the myths and propaganda about immigrants and state the positive case for a multi-racial society. That is much more difficult to do than fighting a street battle. Street battles will not resolve this problem. They will make it a good deal worse. It is in that spirit that I shall look at the Public Order Act in its wider aspect.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
Does the Secretary of State not find something anomalous in the conflicting demands upon him? On the one hand, some members of his party call for bans on marches, which would inevitably involve the police in having to maintain that ban and therefore risk being knocked about in the streets. On the other hand, there are the claims from the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) that when the police do their duty, as they have this morning at Grunwicks, they are accused—and I quote the word—of "vandalism ". Will he recognise that it is not good enough to call for bans for certain discriminatory acts when that suits hon. Gentlemen and for them then to condemn the police when they maintain the law and do their duty in other respects?
§ Mr. Rees
It is quite clear that on marches the police have the most difficult job of all time. They are accused by one side of protecting and so on. If errors are made, there are procedures for dealing with them, and those procedures were approved by the House. But I know that marches such as those at Lewisham or Manchester put great tensions on the police force in the area concerned. It has a most difficult job to do. But if there are genuine complaints, there are methods of dealing with them.
I should like briefly to say a word or two about international terrorism.
§ Mr. Gorst
Before the Home Secretary leaves that topic, having dealt with police pay and equipment and so on, will he address himself to the question of police morale? To those of us who have spent a good deal of time talking with the police about their job, this appears to be a fundamental problem. Basically, they appear to feel, particularly in view of the smugness of the Prime Minister, who has never once in this House condemned the violent treatment of the police on the streets, that they do not seem to be 328 receiving the necessary support from the Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about the morale of the police?
§ Mr. Rees
The morale of the police is a worrying problem to deal with. All I would say is that it will not be dealt with just by an increase in pay. It will not be dealt with, either, by putting the blame on one political party or the other. It is a subject to which the country as a whole must put its mind, because the job of the police is a difficult one.
I shall not swop notes about who knows more policemen and what they say. I met a large number the other night who, I was told, were not typical. Be that as it may. I meet a large number of police and I know how they feel. I know how they feel when their affairs are bandied about politically. They tell me that one of the reasons for their wanting to get out of the negotiating machinery was their view of politicians. I presume that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) comes into that category.
In respect of international terrorism, I mentioned earlier the international dimension. Recent events in Mogadishu and elsewhere have shown us the threat that this brings. We have continued, therefore, to revise and up-date our contingency plans for dealing with such incidents in the light of experience gained from exercises, from the study of actual incidents in other parts of the world, and by taking into account the current assessment of the threat.
It would obviously be inappropriate for me to go into this—it would give too much information—but we have taken the view that it would be wrong for the United Kingdom to adopt an insular attitude and refuse to share the knowledge and experience we have gained. I chaired a meeting of EEC Ministers of the Interior in May this year. There are working groups on a wide range of subjects 329 of concern to the police, the security service, and other Government Departments and agencies. Based on that initiative of discussion in Europe, which followed from an initiative taken by my predecessor, there are constant discussions and a constant exchange of information. Only last week I had discussions in London with the Italian Minister of the Interior, Signor Cossiga, which is typical of the co-operation that is taking place. I also talked to him in Rome a few weeks ago.
The exchange of information is extremely valuable. One cannot say that one is absolutely ready, by the nature of the problem. But I assure the House that we firmly take into account what has happened elsewhere
I shall not say much about penalties. Last year we put through legislation that increased the penalties. I shall say simply that we are increasing the number of attendance centres and giving priority to areas of greatest need, namely, Ipswich, Stockton, Birmingham, Bolton, Warrington and Brighton, in addition to those we already have.
With the increased money available we are also seeking to increase community service orders. What we shall do is to bring in new schemes from 1st December in Cornwall, Derbyshire, Middlesex, Northampton and Suffolk. That is the basis on which the extra money will be spent.
I want to say a. brief word about prisons. The development of non-custodial sentences will not—it could not—do away with imprisonment. But one of the most persistent fantasies about prisons in that they are "holiday camps" or rest homes for the incurably anti-social. I know that the hon. Gentleman visited a prison the other day which is near where I live, and that prison is by no means a holiday camp.
We have 41,700 people in prison, and of these nearly 15,500 are sleeping either two or three to a cell. The worst overcrowding is in the local prisons. We have just brought into service a new prison at Featherstone. A further one at Wymott in Lancashire is almost complete. There will therefore be 1,500 extra places. But all that that will do is help. It will not appreciably diminish the general level of overcrowding.
Paraphrasing a longer argument that I wanted to put, those who kill, murder, or 330 maim ought to be in prison. But what is clear to me, after a year or so as Home Secretary, is that we put far more people in gaol than does any other country in Western Europe. There are people in gaol when it is the wrong place for them. Selectivity is of the greatest importance and is a matter we should discuss across the Floor of the House, particularly with regard to the mentally ill.
But, having read with the greatest interest the report issued by the Conservative Party, I believe that there is no way through on the glasshouse mentality. It is not true, in modern times, that after a quick, short period in the glasshouse with one's head shaved, one comes out and behaves properly. It is much more complicated than that.
I hope that in the discussions we shall not find that some want weak regimes and some want strong regimes in prison. That will not do at all. There are far too many people in prison. We should be concerned about those who, when they are released, did not just commit crimes—because that would happen however long they were imprisoned—but those who would be a disturbance in society in terms of murdering, mugging and all the other words we use in the modern world.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reference to the study group conclusions published in August. Is he aware that the view taken by members of the study group, set up by my right hon. Friend for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), that there should be short, sharp sentences in suitable cases, is in exact line with the conclusion reached by the Advisory Council on the Penal System? It is a view taken by the majority of prison governors and prison officers.
§ Mr. Rees
I am surprised that the hon. and learned Gentleman says that, because I had the report analysed. I have it in front of me that the report by the Conservative Party is in direct contradistinction to the report from the Advisory Council on the Penal System. It may be that we have greater resources for analysis. One should look at it carefully, because the ACPS Report, which has had the support of successive Governments, recommended that while discipline in detention centres should remain firm, as 331 it has, it should in general be less rigid than it was. As I go around, talking to the people working in those centres, they tell me that that is the right thing to do.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner
Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of a sentence in the pamphlet "The Proper Use of Prisons ", which states:We share the view Flit forward recently by the Advisory Council on the Penal System that the major impact and deterrent effect of custodial sentences occurs—certainly for those who are going to prison for the first time—in the initial period of imprisonment.
§ Mr. Rees
We will not go on swapping quotes; it is a matter we discussed. It went on to suggest that all aspects of the regime in a centre should be as constructive as possible; that there should he increased emphasis on education for both remedial and general purposes, and that the aim of each member of staff should be to prepare the detainee for life in the community after his release.
As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, if we both agree with the advice given to me, that is fine. We have to be sure what the advice was, and I have no doubt that that will become clear during the course of the debate.
I should like to finish—
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Will the Secretary of State tell us whether he will be bringing any proposals to the House during the current Session of Parliament to reduce the number of people being sent to prison who should not be there at all?
§ Mr. Rees
A major proposal relates to the mentally which I am discussing with colleagues in other Departments.
With regard to extra money for prisons, which can have only a marginal effect given the overcrowding, the short answer is that the major way in which the prison population can be affected is by those who are sent to prison for unimportant offences—I am not talking about the serious ones—being given shorter sentences. I am sure that that is the key to the matter.
I should just like to say a final word about the fire service, which has a bearing on law and order. The Government set out their position last week after I 332 had met the National Joint Council. It was explained that any settlement would have to be within the pay guidelines. The Government recognise the long standing claim for a reduction in the 48-hour week. They would be prepared for a reduction of working hours to be negotiated but the implementation of the reduction would not be practical before the autumn of 1978—it would mean training more firemen—although preparations could begin before then. Detailed arrangements on cost and other aspects of the reduction would be matters for negotiation.
The Government also recognise the need to establish a formula for determining fire service pay. They welcomed the fact that the NJC was seeking to do this through the established negotiating procedures. The Government were following closely the discussions on this subject in the NJC but the phasing of any pay increase would have to be considered in the light of prevailing circumstances.
All I say about the circumstances of today and the possibility of a national strike next Monday is that we have already put in hand arrangements to protect our cities as far as possible. If the strike comes off, the Government will have no alternative but to use all possible methods to protect people's lives and, if necessary, troops may need to be used. In those circumstances, the Government are quite clear that people's safety and their lives are the paramount considerations.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
When the Scottish officers of the Fire Brigades Union met Scottish Members, one of their strongest points was that in places like British Petroleum at Grangemouth there were people doing exactly the same job in industry who were getting markedly more. Cannot this problem be looked at, because it weighs very heavily on them?
§ Mr. Rees
It certainly can be looked at, but in terms of all the large anomalies that may be around at the time. I have given my view as to what the Government policy is on this claim.
The whole area of law and order is a complicated one which is shaped by the growing complexity of modern society 333 and the unpredictable nature of individual behaviour. It does not lend itself to instant analysis Dr easy solutions and the day will never come when a Home Secretary can express his total satisfaction about the situation.
But the problem of law and order is not resolved or even improved by speeches which over-simplify the issues and excite public anxiety. We need to study the facts objectively and have our disagreements. There is no clear future in a large-scale political argument about law and order with one group that is not interested and another group that is interested. It will do nothing to deal with the problem that We have to face. I resent the implication that one political party has a special concern about these issues and I state what was in our manifesto in the last General Election, which we have followed:Labour believes that respect for the law must be firmly based on the rights of the citizen and on his or her obligations to the whole community. We share the view of those who are alarmed at the growth of violence in our society, particularly among young people. Labour believes that law-abiding citizens are entitled to full protection. We will strengthen and uphold the police in the exercise of their proper functions.That we have done. I believe that the Government are fulfilling that undertaking.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)
I was fascinated to hear the Home Secretary criticise a speech of mine as being strong on emotion and short on facts. Those are remarkable criticisms to come from any politician but especially so coming from a Member of that Front Bench, containing, as it does, the Lord President of the Council who has never, in my judgment, made a speech which had any facts in it at all. His speeches are entirely emotional. It the Home Secretary is to criticise me, clearly he must think that I am beginning to get somewhere near to the views of the Lord President of the Council. That would distress me deeply. I should not like that, but I am fascinated that this should be produced as a criticism of what I said at that time.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he welcomed positive proposals and that he believed we should be objective in this debate. I agree entirely and that 334 is what I intend to be throughout my speech this afternoon. But if we are to be objective, we must start by accepting certain fundamental facts of our present situation from which neither the right hon. Gentleman nor anyone else can escape. We had an 11 per cent. increase in crime in the first six months of this year compared with the first six months of last year. We have to face, not only in this country but throughout the world, increasing violence. We have to face serious problems with juvenile offenders, vandalism, mugging and general lawlessness. No one can escape from that.
We have to recognise too, whatever may be the other arguments, that our police force which has to deal with these problems has been weakened by the loss of experienced officers and the force is, in any case, seriously undermanned. We have to face the fact that some of our penal measures are just not working and that prisons are so overcrowded that they cannot perform their proper role. Above all, we have to face the fact that our people have real anxieties about the increasing crime, violence and lawlessness in their own neighbourhoods. If we in this House do not accept these facts, we shall not measure up to the arguments of producing positive proposals, which now intend to do.
I am convinced that we can hope to give our citizens the protection that is their right only if we devise a basic strategy to combat crime. Of course, it is true that the measures necessary to carry through such a strategy will place demands—the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right—in some cases heavy demands, on our national resources. This means that they cannot all be carried through at once, nor, indeed, as soon as we would wish. But that does not and must not divert us from the need to have a strategy and to make plans which are ready to implement.
I have no intention of being dogmatic about the various proposals that I shall put forward, But, equally, where we are clearly not succeeding, I refuse to accept that we can stand by idly simply because we are not broadminded enough to admit that some changes in our penal arrangements have been a mistake and that some developments have plainly not worked out as predicted.
335 Naturally, it would be best if we could have more success in stopping young people taking to crime in the first place. This requires action by parents in the home and by teachers and community leaders throughout the time in school. Discussion on this aspect of our problems is worthy of a debate on its own.
Today, I will make only two points, but when my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) winds up the debate he will no doubt amplify them. There needs to be more effective liaison between schools, social services and the police to detect those families whose internal stresses are likely to lead to trouble. To this end, the police should be strongly supported in setting up special antitruancy and antivandalism task forces. They should also be encouraged in their valuable community relations work.
Secondly, we are failing to involve children and young people in the many excellent volntary groups in our society. I sense that in recent years there has been too much indifference towards and scepticism about the use of voluntary groups. Nor do I feel that the Government have been sufficiently active in changing this attitude through their support for voluntary groups. Why, for example, are these organisations subjected to endless bureaucratic delays in obtaining small sums of money in grants from central and local government? Cannot the Government encourage local authorities to allow the use of their schools on advantageous terms instead of, as in some cases, steeply increasing their charges? If the hon. Gentleman looks surprised I have found, on going round the country, that this is exactly what is happening now.
§ The Minister of State Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)
The right hon. Gentleman talked about endless bureaucratic delays before some voluntary organisation got its money. Will he please specify these, because my experience, as the Minister in charge of the voluntary services unit, is that the unit is very speedy and flexible in giving such grants?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
If the Minister of State can prove to me that that is so, I shall be very pleased. However, that is certainly not what the voluntary organisations all over the country are saying. What I am saying is perfectly fair. Hon. 336 Gentlemen can give examples from their own constituencies of long delays in the bureaucratic arrangements for giving these grants. The Minister of State says that these delays do not exist. I tell him that they have existed with all Governments and with all local authorities. They are probably worse with local authorities than they are with Government. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he can be complacent and sit there imagining that it is working, I must tell him that the people on the ground do not consider that it is.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Yes, I will. I will give the hon. Gentleman full details in writing, and I am very pleased to do so. He will find that there are complaints from many different parts of the country.
I also think that we have to be somewhat depressed about the Department of the Environment's report, which was published last week, on the use of sports facilities. The report makes extremely sad reading. It is apparent that boys and girls are not using the available facilities as much as they should and seem to feel discouraged from doing so. Therefore, we are not succeeding in our own efforts to provide rival attractions through sport to the excitement and thrills that, unfortunately, some young people find in acts of petty vandalism and violence. That report is from a Government Department, and I think it is one that this House should consider carefully because I believe that it discloses a damaging situation.
So far, I have mentioned police work in connection with avoiding crime. I now turn to the position of the police force and its main rôle of crime detection and the protection of our citizens and their property. There is nothing more infuriating in public life than to urge a course of action on Government and to have it turned down as totally impractical, or just ignored, only to find the Government adopting it themselves several months—usually damaging months—later.
337 On 12th July in this House, I advocated an independent inquiry into police pay. The Government—as was, of course, their right—paid no attention. In July, there were those who suggested that Lord Edmund-Davies' committee should consider pay as well as future negotiating machinery. Apparently, in July, it was not possible and, if it was possible, it certainly was not done. Now that course has been adopted and certainly it is welcome. But the tragedy is that three damaging months have intervened. They are damaging to the Police Service, damaging to the cause of crime prevention, and so damaging to all our people. Nor does the setting up of the independent inquiry remove the need for urgency in ensuring that police officers are properly rewarded.
At the end of August this year, the total strength of the police force had fallen by more than 100 officers since the beginning of this year. That figure, of course, hides a much more worrying situation. We are losing experienced police officers with eight or nine years' service and replacing them with young men and, increasingly, young women. Of course, these recruits are valuable. But they cannot be considered now as an adequate substitute for the loss of experienced officers.
In the first six months of this year in England and Wales we lost nearly 6,000 officers. In the Metropolitan Police Force we now have fewer police officers in total than we had at the beginning of this year. Nor can the Government forget that this serious deterioration in experienced manpower is taking place, not only against a background of rising crime, but against persistent undermanning in our police services. In England and Wales we are over 9,000 officers short. We are over 4,000 officers short in London.
These facts show why it is vital for Lord Edmund-Davies' committee to report urgently on a new negotiating pay body involving the local authorities —here I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman—and on new pay structure.
I take the right hon. Gentleman's point that, now the committee is sitting, we should let it consider the facts and should not continue to argue about the details which it will properly have to consider. Nevertheless, there are certain questions which I hope the Minister of State Will 338 answer at the end of this debate. When does the Home Secretary expect the committee to report? Has he given it any deadline? I think it is important to know whether he has. The Government are committed to accepting the committee's findings. What exactly is their position on implementation?
Lastly, I understand that the Home Secretary intends to appoint more members to the committee. When will he announce their names? I am sure that he will agree that it is urgent that this is done to make the police and everyone else feel that there is a sense of urgency about the work of the committee. I hope that he will do this very soon. If the Minister of State can give us some indication about that it would be extremely helpful.
Of course we welcome the announcement of £9 million for police cadets and civilian staff in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's mini-Budget. But before the right hon. Gentleman gets too pleased with himself about that, let him reflect that the reversing of a very stupid decision to stop recruiting police cadets and, indeed, to cut back on the civilian staff is an occasion for humble repentance rather than for self-congratulation.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It happened to be just before I became Home Secretary, but I agreed with the decision. The question that was put to us in police circles was that they preferred the money to go to the policemen themselves. I was booed out so that I could not talk at the police conference in Central Hall when I mentioned the police cadets. I was told very firmly that they did not want them.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, I think that I should make it clear that I would be the last to condone the booing of the right hon. Gentleman in his position as Home Secretary at any time, particularly as has happened recently. I am sure that the House would think it quite wrong and I very much regret that it happened. But that is something that we all have to face in politics. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman getting up and saying "My decision was right because somebody booed me." That is what the right lion. Gentleman has said. His decision on police cadets was wrong. He has now 339 admitted that it was wrong by reversing it. All I am saying is that I think that a little humble repentance would do him no harm, and I do not think that there is anything unreasonable in that. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He is Home Secretary. He must stand by his own decisions. I am saying that he has now taken the right decision. I am only asking him not to congratulate himself too much on reversing a silly decision. I think that is a very reasonable position.
Nor, in considering the police, can we forget the extra burdens we place on them in upholding the law where marches, demonstrations or picketing, as at Grunwick, degenerate into violence, sometimes, alas, particularly directed against the police themselves. The right of democratic process, which includes marches, should be upheld. And, of course, peaceful picketing is perfectly legal. Recently we have seen the democratic process abused through deliberate provocation and retaliation. Nor can anyone pretend that the scenes at Grunwick in the past, and evidently today from what we have heard, could conceivably be described as peaceful picketing.
Such abuses must be firmly dealt with and I hope that the Home Secretary will accept the need for the Government to be absolutely even-handed in dealing with them whether the organisations are the National Front, the Socialist Workers Unity Party or, indeed, any other group that takes to violence to further its own political ends. There can and must be no double standards, and I hope that the Home Secretary will fully recognise that that is something which this House would rightly expect.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
We have talked about this in a different context. The police arrest whom they want to arrest. I do not interfere in any shape or form, and I would not. It must be even-handed, but it would not be my decision: it is the Chief Constable's decision.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Yes, I am accepting that, but equally I am addressing the Home Secretary in these terms in view of the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) about the whole procedure for banning marches and the pressures that are on the Home 340 Secretary. I have heard some of his hon. Friends say that the marches of one organisation should be banned while others should be disregarded. What I am saying to the Home Secretary is simple: the activities and the position of the Government must be totally even-handed as between different organisations from wherever they may come.
I turn to the question of dealing with offenders. First, I want to restate the basic principles upon which I base my ideas. Punishment must not only fit the crime but also fit the type of offenders. Therefore those who administer the law must have available to them as wide a measure of sentences as possible. For example, I am glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about attendance centres. Personally, I hope that he will reconsider the position not to have senior attendance centres. I also believe that we are right to proceed with custody and control orders for all ages of offenders.
These principles seem to me to be particularly applicable to young offenders where the situation must cause all grave anxiety. It is profoundly depressing to hear of some young offenders moving in a continuing life of crime from suspended sentences to detention centres, to borstals and, finally, to adult prisons. Of course it would be wrong to exaggerate the numbers, and in principle these failures must not deter us from non-custodial sentences in general nor from the development of the valuable community service orders introduced by the last Conservative Government, but they do raise a major question on one aspect of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I want to make it clear, once again, that we Conservatives fully accept and support the philosophy of the 1969 Act that, whenever possible, young offenders should be dealt with outside custody, provided that they are propertly supervised. But I am certain that the Government must be prepared to accept that a minority of hardened young thugs, who openly laugh and thumb their noses at the whole working of the juvenile courts, must be committed to secure accommodation, or the general public will lose complete confidence in the whole system. Then there is the grave danger that the good work of the Children 341 and Young Persons Act in the vast majority of cases will be lost in bitter recriminations about its failure in a small number of instances, which of course get considerable notoriety.
Against that background I want again to ask the Home Secretary this question: are the Government prepared to accept the views of the all-party Select Committee in the Eleventh Report of the Expenditure Committee that there should be more secure accommodation for young offenders and that the magistrates should have the power restored to them to impose custodial sentences on young offenders when they believe it to be essential? If not, why not? The magistrates, the police and many other people connected with young offenders, all deeply disturbed at the present position, are entitled to an answer to that question from the Government.
It is in connection with custodial sentences that I have proposed short, sharp shock treatment for a small minority of young offenders. The cases I have in mind are those when a magistrate has before him a young man who has been guilty of numerous offences in the past. Clearly, the available sentences, as at present, have not proved successful. The magistrate is reluctant to send such an offender to a long term in prison because he fears that the young man will simply become acclimatised to criminal attitudes there.
For these cases I have suggested a short sentence at a detention centre run on tough lines. We have had such detention centres in the past, and they have been changed. I compared what I was saying with the Army glasshouse treatment, for one very good reason. Those who experienced treatment there were determined never to return.
This idea has been instantly condemned by some as returning to the dark ages of penal reform. On the other hand, I have had many letters of support, including some from those who experienced such treatment themselves and believe that they benefited from it. Those who condemn this suggestion because it involves going back to older forms of punishment must either accept that they will do nothing about those cases which we are failing today or tell us what their alternative is. If it is simply to wait and hope that things will come better in the 342 future, I fear that that is a counsel of despair.
I appreciate the risk of mistaken committals and of tough but fair treatment degenerating into acts of unnecessary and damaging cruelty in the wrong hands, but I regard the dangers of feebly accepting our present failures as far greater. If this process succeeded, it might help us to reduce the number of the adult prisoners. Anything that helped to reduce the numbers in our overcrowded prisons would be a great bonus.
Recently, as has already been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, some of my hon. Friends and Conservative colleagues under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) published a valuable report on prisons, "The Proper Use of Prisons ". Their conclusions, like those of other studies, was that due to pressure of numbers our prisons have ceased to be training grounds for reform. At best they have become a means of removing from normal life those who are a danger when free either to their fellow citizens or to themselves. At worst, they are breeding grounds for further crime.
We must therefore make plans to remove from prison those who could and should be dealt with elsewhere. For example, the mentally abnormal could be accommodated on a secure basis in mental hospitals.
Yesterday's report in The Sunday Timeswould, I think, confirm many of our worst fears on this subject. In the opinion of certain prison doctors, at any one time in our prison system there are 900 men who should be in psychiatric hospitals, not in prison. The alcoholics should be treated in detoxification centres.
Above all, we must seek to cut down the distressingly high number of those awaiting trial. The right hon. Gentleman referred to my visit to the Leeds prison close to his constituency. I was appalled by the number of people who, I was told, were there on remand awaiting trial.
This week we have seen the danger of relying on easier bail as a solution to the problem. I fear that there is a danger that if we simply implement the Bail Act as it stands there will be problems concerning the safety of our fellow citizens. 343 I hope that we will certainly not implement this Act until we have established the extent of bail abuse. I think the Home Secretary will agree with me that there have been some well publicised cases of bail abuse. We should look very carefully at this situation before proceeding further.
Is there nothing we can do to speed up the legal processes and to bring cases forward more quickly? I do not think that it makes any sense to sit back and accept the present position, which most people in the legal profession and outside feel is quite intolerable.
As my party's committee's suggested, there is a need to reconsider the running of our prison service, and in particular we should look at the views of those people who believe that direct control of the prison service should be removed from the Home Office and returned to the Prison Commissioners. That is a widespread view, and it should be considered.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
Given that what used to be the Prison Commissioners' work is now in the Home Office. I am most interested to hear in what way the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion would make any difference.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
My hon. Friends' report says that there are those inside the Prison Service who believe that a change of this nature would mean that we would have a prison service that was more independent and able to speak out more freely when particular problems affected it. I am not sure that this is right but I believe that it is a view that should be looked at, as I understand that it is widespread.
My purpose in this debate has been to put forward some proposals and to suggest some changes upon which we could base a comprehensive strategy to combat rising crime. No one can suggest that these proposals have not been carefully thought through and would not, if put together, amount to a comprehensive strategy. No one can deny that these are proposals that should be considered carefully in view of our present difficulties.
I hope that the Home Secretary and the Minister of State, who is to reply to the debate, will at least concede that they are ready objectively to discuss these long- 344 term plans. Certainly they have a duty to do so at a time when people are looking anxiously towards their Government for protection.
Whatever the Government do, we Conservatives are determined that after the next election the Conservative Government will be ready to meet the challenge of rising crime, lawlessness and violence which threatens the whole basis of our democratic society.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
The public are rapidly losing faith in law and order in this country. I find in my constituency that an increasing number of people are too frightened to go out in the evenings, particularly women, and that men are frightened to take their families to football matches or anywhere that there is a large congregation of people. Some people are even frightened to stay in their own homes. This is a sad state of affairs and something must be done about it.
The present system of fines and present sentences are no longer an effective deterrent. I believe that we must find new methods to produce really effective deterrents and methods of reforming criminals, because our present ones have failed. Too often we have spent too much time considering what should be done for criminals and too little time considering the criminals' victims. The number of victims is increasing all the time.
First, I believe that we must restore capital punishment. This is necessary. Anyone looking at the figures can see for himself that the number of victims of murder has risen rapidly over a considerable period. This can be traced back to the abolition of capital punishment. Secondly, I believe that because of the number of vicious crimes taking place we should consider reintroducing corporal punishment. It should be within the power of the courts to impose both these punishments where they feel it necessary.
When we had capital punishment a person who was convicted of murder had to be sentenced to death. There is no other crime for which there is a mandatory sentence of one kind only. That is quite wrong, as it takes away the discretionary power of the judge who has tried the case.
345 There are different types of murder. Some justify capital punishment and some do not. Nevertheless, all the offenders are guilty of murder and in the past all were subject to the death penalty. I believe that we should have the same system as we have for every other crime: the court should have discretion to decide on the evidence whether a particular murder deserves capital punishment.
I do not want the reintroduction of capital punishment solely for the murder of prison officers and police officers. That is quite wrong. Other people are victims of murder, and very often the circumstances are such that capital punishment is every bit as justified as it is for the murder of a policeman or a prison officer. It is wrong to differentiate in that way. The differentiation should take place in the court, and should be done by the person who has tried the case, who has heard all the evidence and who, in all other cases, is empowered by the law to use his discretion. However, the death penalty should be capable of being passed when a person is convicted of murder. The fact that this penalty might be used would, I believe, become a very effective deterrent.
I want to see the courts have the power to impose sentences which will enable convicted criminals to be treated by the methods they have used themselves. I should like the same degree of violence to be used on them as has been used on their victims. Is that too much to ask? If someone has used a shotgun, I believe that he should get the same treatment. Do people really feel sorry for a person who has gone round filling someone else with shot? Also, people who throw acid in someone else's face should have the same treatment meted out to them.
§ Mr. Doig
My hon. Friends may laugh, but I believe that if people indiscriminately throw bombs the court should have the power to say that half a dozen bombers should be put together in a room and a bomb dropped on them. If a person poisons another he should be liable to be poisoned also. I am not saying that it should be compulsory; I am saying that the courts should have the power to impose such a penalty if it is thought to be justified.
§ Mr. Doig
I should be quite satisfied if we did not measure it exacting grain by grain but simply used the same methods to an approximate degree.
The public and I are convinced that if people knew that they were liable to receive from a court the same treatment that they had meted out to others it would be a deterrent. A prison sentence is not a deterrent and that is why crime is increasing. We must start to think along new lines. Perhaps someone will come up with another form of deterrent, but I suggest that this method could be useful and effective. It is time that we started to think about finding new types of effective deterrents, because the public are now aware—even if Home Office officials are not—that prison sentences are no longer an effective deterrent.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) made a point about voluntary groups and the lack of assistance that is given to them. They can help people, especially the young, to keep out of trouble. I have had some experience of this in my city. The YMCA is an old-established body which caters extremely successfully for all sorts of young people. A couple of years ago the YMCA in my city nearly had to close due to lack of funds. It would have been a disaster had that happened.
All sorts of clubs, for bowling, tennis and even chess, have been in danger of closure due to lack of funds. I can give my own small chess club as an example. It was left a legacy of few duties. As a result, it has to pay corporation tax to the Government and all sorts of other taxes. I shall write to the Minister giving a detailed list. The club cannot sell the few duties unless the people concerned are prepared to buy them back and few are prepared to do so. On a fairly small income, the club is heavily taxed by the Government. It is a question, not of the club not receiving Government assistance, but of the Government taking revenue from the club. I want to be fair and I must point out that the local authority has occasionally given the club a 347 small grant. Until recently it received a grant of £20. That might be thought to be a small sum, and it is, but small sums can keep many voluntary clubs going.
It is about time that the Government again looked at the way in which they are taxing such clubs and considered whether they could forgo those taxes and thus did not drive small clubs out of existence. Much could be done along these lines.
Few such clubs can afford reasonable premises. They are usually accommodated in condemned buildings or in back streets because that is all that they can afford. Such clubs should be encouraged. They are much better at controlling the young than are the community centres owned by the Government because such clubs have their own means of controlling members, such as expelling them, which are highly effective and few who belong to such clubs get into trouble. Small sums of money could keep these clubs going, yet far from assisting them the Government are taxing them, driving them into bankruptcy and forcing them to close. The Minister should consider this matter. I shall certainly send him details about my own club.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Perhaps one of the great problems facing law and order is the current feeling within the community that militancy pays, and until that feeling can be shown to be totally wrong we shall have little chance. Even soccer violence is trendy. Instead of the cowardly actions of soccer vandals being deplored, these young men go back to something of a heroic welcome. The answer is not simply a matter of imposing law and order, as of parental and teachers' actions, which would deter such vandals.
In Cambridgeshire, where we have village colleges as opposed to schools, there is much less vandalism against educational premises than there is in areas where school is just a nine-to-four, five-day-a-week institution which stands there as an enemy of the people. What was said by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) about the cost of hirings at educational institutions is relevant. The more ex- 348 pensive that a school makes it for people to hire a room, the more people will be against that establishment.
As the House will recognise, Liberals are not in favour of hanging and flogging—unlike the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig). However, we believe that some crimes can be dealt with only by imprisonment. We totally agree with the Home Secretary in believing that more extensive use could be made of enlightened systems of punishment, such as those used in Scandinavia and Holland. There are far too many people in prison—not just the mentally handicapped and mentally ill of whom the Home Secretary spoke, but also drunks and debtors—who find little to benefit them in prison surroundings. There should be much more experimentation with such things as weekend detention centres and the attendance centres that have just opened. Perhaps short, sharp weekends would be an excellent thing. There should certainly not be any cosseting. However, I doubt that there is a great deal of cosseting in our prisons now— in spite of what people say.
Police pay is the greatest single difficulty now, and the most important factor acting against police recruiting. Account must be taken of the completely differing circumstances of inner-city police and rural police, because there is little comparison between the two. Anyone who read the article by Hugo Young in The Sunday Times yesterday will admit that the police pay negotiations were appallingly badly handled by the Police Federation, acting on the advice of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). I suggest that the Police Federation should get rid of the hon. Member and appoint, in his place, a proper industrial adviser. Life would then be much more satisfactory.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not now here to confirm this, but as the suggestion that Lord Edmund-Davies' terms of reference should be extended to cover police pay was made by me, would the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) withdraw that comment?
§ Mr. Freud
It would be impossible to give wholly bad advice, but the overall guidance that the hon. Member for Bury 349 St. Edmunds has given to the Police Federation has been pretty appalling.
Assaults on the police should be a special case. We talk a great deal about special cases, but assaults on the police do call for harsher punishment. which should be given as a matter of course. I hope that such an instruction will be passed on by the Home Secretary.
The Home Secretary announced that the civilian strength of the police force is to be extended. This will be welcomed by all hon. Members, but I wonder whether the Minister could confirm that this will not be just the Home Office's provision for a 1 per cent. a year increase over the 1974 figure, from which my local police force has suffered. The police in mid-Anglia has always recognised the importance, quality and economic excellence of the civilian members of the force and it is only the Home Office criteria that have stopped them from employing more.
I am not sure that there is much wrong with the morale of the police. The underpayment of police officers is more comparative than absolute. The enlightened constabulary in mid-Anglia offered the force one day's overtime a month at time and half and found that only 40 per cent. of officers took it up. This extra payment would have amounted to about £150 a year, and if policemen were suffering grievously from lack of finance, I think that the response would have been very much greater.
I hope that the Home Secretary will look again at simplifying of the police complaints procedure, which is currently far too complicated both for civilians and for the police. Anyone wishing to make a complaint against the police is confronted with so much paperwork that it becomes virtually impossible to pursue.
If the Home Secretary studies the reasons for senior inspectors leaving the police force, he will find that many are totalled disillusioned and frustrated because they are constantly called upon to conduct inquiries into police forces in other parts of the country. These are senior police inspectors who cannot count on spending more than a few days each week with their own forces because of the repeated investigatory calls. Simplification of the complaints procedure would be beneficial to all.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
I shall not comment on the speech of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) except to commend much of what he said. Nor shall I take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), though there was more than a grain of truth in what he said.
Even at this early stage in the debate, it is clear that, while there is no mention of crime prevention in the Queen's Speech, it is, nevertheless, a subject of utmost importance to us all. I am in something of a difficulty because, as the only representative of my party in Parliament, I have to attempt to cover the many issues raised in the Gracious Speech while concentrating on something that fits into one of our debates. I have deliberately chosen the prevention of crime because it is so fundamental to the well-being of society that Parliament cannot spend too much time on it.
I often wonder whether we cannot see the wood for the trees in this matter. Many useful suggestions will be made on what can be done to improve the law and law enforcement and to maintain peace and order, but I wonder whether we address ourselves sufficiently to the root of the problem, namely, the decline in the moral attitude of the community and the decline in the attitude towards authority. Only when we start to face these questions shall we solve this problem and many others that confront us.
The attitude to authority and the law generally is a particular responsibility of Parliament. If we are not the shapers of public opinion in these matters, who else will give a lead? I fear that far too often we undermine proper attitudes to authority and the law as we debate some of the trickier points in Parliament. Without wishing to be offensive or to score debating points, I should like to illustrate what I am saying by drawing attention to the Home Secretary's attitude to one aspect of our debate.
The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have both made somewhat partisan remarks about the National Front. Whether we agree with the National Front or not is neither here nor there. It enjoys exactly the same rights and freedoms as any other political party in this nation. If we are to address our 351 minds to the violence associated with National Front meetings, we should not set out the problem in a partisan way because it is not the National Front alone that has promoted violence in the areas where it holds its meetings. I find it a little disturbing that the actions of the extreme Left in this respect are ignored. We must try to avoid tackling the problem in this way.
No one is better placed than I to understand this sort of problem because I have had to contend with political organisations that have sought to provoke actions that were not in the best interests of law and order. Indeed, it is ironic that some of those who would have lectured the Northern Ireland Government in those days now take a different stance when faced with similar problems here.
I now wish to broaden the argument. The prevention of crime has to take into account the general influences that exist, particularly now that crime seems to be becoming more violent. As we analyse the problem, we cannot overlook the spectrum of violence in our society, ranging from industrial strife to terrorism. If we do not get violence in its proper context, we shall not create the climate necessary to help the prevention of crime, particularly violent crime.
Far too often we say something that we may regard as peripheral to this matter without realising that it is fundamental in determining people's attitudes. The Prime Minister said that if Parliament had time the Government would bring in legislation to implement the European Convention on Terrorism. This issue should not be left on a limb and made subject to parliamentary time. It represents one of the most serious problems facing the free world and it should be a matter of principle for us to give a lead in this respect. In doing so, we should be reinforcing the climate of public opinion and attitudes towards crime, regardless of its type.
There is another matter of which Parliament should be more conscious. We all have remedies to prescribe for our various hobby-horses, but a legislature must be careful that, when legislating, it does not bring the law into contempt. This is a question not simply of having punishments that fit the crime, but of having laws suitable for the problems in the community.
352 Far too often, the full weight of authority and the law is thrown behind something that should be dealt with outside the law. I shall not give specific examples now because the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will shortly be giving me the opportunity to highlight the sort of thing I mean. He will be compelling the people of Northern Ireland to do something that could be achieved without legislation.
We must emphasise the general attitude towards the police and law enforcement. In earlier exchanges it was apparent that sometimes it comes easy to find fault with the police. Parliament, in its wisdom, has provided machinery for investigating complaints against the police. Some people would say that that machinery is of such an onerous nature that it may inhibit the police in doing their duty. The machinery exists and before anyone embarks upon comment that will undermine the authority of the police he should ensure that whatever machinery exists for dealing with complaints is used.
The community must, whether it likes it or not, face up to the changing nature and character of our police. A programme late last night on Independent Television ably and effectively illustrated the nature of the change in our police forces. We must be prepared to think of the police differently and accept that their image is no longer that of the English bobby. We must also consider the citizen's attitude. In terms of law and order we are still the most free society in Western Europe.
I turn to matters which are relevant to Northern Ireland. We are as interested as anyone else in the proposal for constitutional reform. I was intrigued by the fact that the Gracious Speech referred tothe development and the enlargement of the European Economic Community ".That is a most challenging statement to make when Parliament is shortly to be asked to consider the question of direct elections to the European Parliament. We have been given no indication as to who is to be the arbiter or the extent of the proposed enlargement of the EEC.
The other aspect of constitutional change concerns devolution. I cannot pretend that I fully welcome the proposals for Scotland and Wales, but I pay tribute 353 to the Government for showing a willingness to tackle a difficult problem. It is important that we see devolution in its proper perspective and that we recognise that it must provide for the proper government of the United Kingdom rather than merely satisfy sectional interests of any description.
There is little encouragement for Northern Ireland in this respect. The Gracious Speech confirms a commitment to devolution of some kind or another in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister spoke of a form of devolution that would be acceptable to both parts of the community, but there is no positive policy. At a time when Northern Ireland seems to be making progress in dealing with its violent crime that situation is tragic. The terrorists are now more isolated than they have been for a long time. The laws against terrorists are being more effectively enforced than they have been for some time. Let no one be deluded into thinking that the problem will disappear or that this is a matter only for law and order and crime prevention. Terrorism can be put down only when terrorists lose their credibility and when their hope of success has disappeared.
Terrorism in Northern Ireland will have very fertile ground on which to breed if it is Government policy that its constitution and mode of government is up for grabs. I should have liked to see the Government being more firm in their approach to devolution for Northern Ireland. The Government do not have a range of options. There must be either devolution for Northern Ireland or not. There is no in-between position. Indefinite direct rule is not an acceptable proposition. I hope that the Government and Parliament will quickly realise the truth of that and respond to it.
Is it not time that Northern Ireland enjoyed the same concepts of Parliamentary democracy and the same concept of justice as any other part of the United Kingdom? The Government have decided to introduce Bills for Scotland and Wales. If Parliament sees f t to approve them, the people of Scotland and Wales will be asked to pass judgment on them. When shall we have a Bill for Northern Ireland which Parliament car consider and which the people will be called upon to judge?
Talk of taking interim steps will not help to defeat terrorism, restore law and 354 order or bring back economic confidence to Northern Ireland. When we can talk about Government and Parliament being evenhanded in these matters, we shall have a better chance of preventing crime and violence. Northern Ireland would be the ideal place to begin that process.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The House will be relieved to hear that I shall not be led astray by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) into arguments about devolution. They will undoubtedly take place at a later stage. However, I hope that sooner rather than later, in fairness, there will be not 12 but the proper 19, 20 or 21 Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland constituencies—whatever is the numerical ratio.
I shall be forgiven for commenting that I begin to wonder how 12 or 19 Irishmen, 36 Welshmen and 71 Scotsmen will be able to vote on matters concerning Halifax, Stratford-on-Avon or Guildford, the constituencies of those on the Front Bench, and not on any account in relation to their own constituencies. However, that is a problem that can wait.
This is the first occasion in my 15½ years in the House that I have used my voice during either a Scottish or an English Home Office debate. I do so on this occasion because of a particular case that has gone on since February 1977 or, indeed, since 4th July 1976. The case concerns my constituency and raises real issues of principle in relation to the police and particularly to police complaints.
I was fortunate to be awarded a debate by Mr. Speaker on Thursday 10th November on these issues. It would be an abuse to stray into the particulars that I shall raise then. However, there are issues of principle that should be brought more properly into this more general debate that would be out of place in an Adjournment debate.
First, however, I would like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who wrote me a very long letter on 27th 355 October, for the personal trouble that they have all taken as I have been going into these difficult and complex issues. I know that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has a certain interest in this matter, as adviser to the Police Federation.
The first question that I must ask my right hon. and hon. Friends is whether it is right that a policeman who has been found guilty of an alleged offence and fined should be doubly punished for a relatively minor offence. I am not talking here about major offences. Of course, with major offences things are completely different. I am talking about whether a policeman should be subject to double punishment in being fined and having his career ruined at the same time. A relatively small fine can be a disaster for a police officer and his family.
Coupled with this question I ask whether policemen who have hitherto had an unblemished record of service should have their careers ruined unless the case against them is proven beyond all reasonable doubt.
No hon. Member should get into the position, either wittingly or unwittingly, of trying to do the job of the courts in this country, and still less to presume to act as judge or jury on the guilt or innocence of one of his constituents. On this matter. I have been scrupulous. At no stage in the case of Sergeant William Jamieson of Bo'ness have I asked my three young constituents who are alleged to have suffered a cowardly and brutal assault by my constituent, Sergeant Jamieson, and Constable Sandy Charleston, to come to see me, although I am widely advertised locally as being available on almost every Saturday morning somewhere in my constituency. They must have known that they would have been welcome to see me had they wished to do so.
My file on this case runs to over 280 pages, but the nub of the matter can be telescoped. On Sunday, 4th July 1976, Sergeant Jamieson and Police Constable Charleston were summoned on two occasions to a rowdy carry-on party in Baptie Place, Bo'ness, and when they went back a third time they arrested three youths whom they put in the cells at Bo'ness police station. The youths were then taken to Falkirk police station where they 356 were let out at 6.30 on Sunday morning. They then walked to Grangemouth, caught a bus, and continued their roistering.
Telescoping matters again, days later a complaint was made against Sergeant Jamieson which over a period of time resulted in conviction by a temporary sheriff and subsequent demotion of Sergeant Jamieson in February this year. The whole story is chronicled in a file, a copy of which is in the hands of the Crown Agent. Another copy is in the hands of the Council on Tribunals and another copy is in the hands of the Ombudsman, who I learn cannot investigate the Crown Office—perhaps a curious exemption?
Several general questions arise from this. The first is: is it right that the Police Federation should be unable even to try to held their members once their members have been convicted in a criminal court? Certainly in such a situation no trade union would feel itself inhibited. I understand that there are differences between the Police Federation and a trade union, but it seems an odd situation where the Police Federation is forced to wash its hands of one of its members once that member is convicted in a criminal court. I ask whether my right hon. Friends are happy about the role of the Police Federation, and are they prepared to have talks on this issue with the Scottish Police Federation and Mr. Joe Black, secretary of that Federation, about changing the rules of the Federation in this respect? I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who has taken such trouble over this case, is now in the Chamber.
My next question is: are the Government happy about the stated case procedure whereby in a matter of great importance to an individual's whole life a sheriff can select certain bits from an unscripted trial and produce a case against which it is exceedingly difficult to appeal? Of course lawyers and advocates can say that they have to make up their minds whether to take a case purely on the basis of what is included in the stated case. To me, as a layman, this seems a very odd way of proceeding because it is an entirely arbitrary decision of a temporary sheriff—I do not make too much of the temporary aspect—to decide what goes into the stated case. As we have 357 discovered in the ca se of Sergeant William Jamieson it is very difficult to get additions put into a stated case.
Therefore I have to ask whether this is really a good way of proceeding when the morale of a great many policemen is involved. Many people in the police force in central Scotland are saying to themselves "If such demotion and ruin can happen to Sergeant Jamieson, it can happen to us." Perhaps in certain circumstances and certain cases they might think that it would be better to pass by on the other side of sonic particular roads when society hopes that they would tackle the problems with which they and society are faced.
Now, it is very difficult for potential defending lawyers to make up their minds when all that they have to make up their minds on is a stated case, which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds knows may be an incomplete stated case. In this particular instance, I am horrified that so much should depend on the assessment by the temporary sheriff that in his judgment my constituent was "shifty" in giving evidence. From what I have heard from other people he just gave his evidence in a matter-of-fact way as he had done so often as a police sergeant.
The next issue is: should a police officer with 11 years' unblemished service, given all the difficult tasks that society imposes on today's policemen, find his career ruined, his family humiliated. facing a financial.loss of thousands of pounds over the years, unless it is clear beyond all reasonable doubt that he was guilty of a brutal attack? There was no medical evidence whatsoever that any assault—let alone any brutal assault—had ever been committed in this case. Only one of the three youths bothered to go near a doctor, and that was 11 days after the alleged assault. The one doctor who appeared in court, Dr. Sandy Lang of Bathgate, said he could find no trace of a mark on his patient. One wonders how it was that those who had allegedly suffered a brutal and cowardly assault were not only able to continue to their party but why they did not bother to go near a doctor until 11 days afterwards, when it had perhaps been put into their minds that it would be a good thing to complain against the police.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a few moments ago that it was not in any way up to hon. Members to sit in judgment in the manner in which a court of law would, but the hon. Gentleman now seems, if he will forgive the criticism, to be commenting in an adverse way on various matters concerning his constituent and the various trials that took place at first instance and on appeal. Is he telling the House that these matters were not considered at the first instance or on appeal when his constituent was convicted?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am telling the House that the appeal procedure is profoundly unsatisfactory and that this is something that the House of Commons should be looking into.
I realise that there is a very delicate borderline here, and I am sure that if I had gone over the borderline the Chair would have pulled me up. But I can assure the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), first, that this is a matter of very considerable public concern throughout central Scotland. Secondly, arguing from a particular case one is surely entitled to make certain general points about the operation of complaints against the police, and to argue from the particular to the general. If the things which happened in this instance were to recur, nothing could be more shattering to the morale of a great number of policemen throughout Britain.
On 27th October 1977 the Home Secretary wrote to me in these terms:When a member of the public makes a complaint against a police officer, it is the responsibility of the chief officer of the force concerned under Section 49 of the Police Act 1964 to record the complaint and cause it to he investigated by a senior officer—here I come to the crux of the issue—who is normally from a different division or branch of the force from the officer against whom the complaint was made.Should a police investigation really be conducted by an officer of the same force, in this case the Central Scotland Region Police Force? Why should an officer be chosen to undertake an investigation who is not only from the same force but who had had a working relationship with my constituent who was being investigated? I note that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who is the adviser 359 to the Police Federation, is agreeing with this.
I refer again to the third paragraph of the Home Secretary's letter of 27th October 1977, where he says:When a member of the public makes a complaint against a police officer, it is the responsibility of the chief officer of the force concerned under Section 49 of the Police Act 1964 to record the complaint, and cause it to be investigated by a senior officer, who is normally from a different division or branch of the force from the officer against whom the complaint was made.Section 49(3) of the Act provides thaton receiving a report of the investigation…the chief officer… unless satisfied that no criminal offence has been committed, shall send the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.When is this seemingly more satisfactory position to obtain in Scotland? When Inspector X—I will not bandy names unnecessarily—was appointed investigating officer, my constituent's reaction was:This is a man with whom I have had many disagreements and our relationship could only be described as hostile. It has been said that I could have objected to his appointment but as I have pointed out in previous correspondence, it was not until some time after he had started the investigation that I was aware of his appointment. By that time the damage had been done.That is how my constituent put it in his letter to me.
The truth of the matter is that the investigating officer had held the inspector's post in Grangemouth, and my constituent had been the sergeant in Bo'ness, and there had been various difficulties with which I need not bore the House. I have had them chronicled. There are disagreements that might arise between one station and another as to dates.
There is a basic principle here. If an investigating officer is to be appointed, Heaven knows, an investigating officer surely has to be someone in a neutral position, and not someone with whom a police officer under investigation has had a working relationship, let alone a difficult working relationship. I hope that the House will forgive me for being a little detailed, but I am raising a basic issue of principle about investigating officers and asking what the Government propose to do to ensure that this will not happen again.
360 Hon. Members may be wondering why on earth a Member of Parliament should be trying to do what Sergeant Jamieson's lawyers should have done. I must confess that I was extremely sceptical at first when Sergeant Jamieson used to come to see me at my surgeries. I was sceptical on precisely this ground. If he had a genuine case, surely his lawyers would have put it effectively. I note that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson), who is a lawyer, is looking very hard at me on this point. I understand his perturbations because I shared them at first.
Having spent some 150 hours of my time on the case—I do not grudge it—I must say that I am appalled, as a layman, at the lack of thoroughness of some lawyers in Scotland. A well-known public figure, the ex-Provost of Bo'ness, Charles Snedden, after scrutinising my file, described the behaviour of certain lawyers in apt Bo'ness language as "diabolical ". I have his permission to say this. I content myself with saying that this aspect of the matter has been placed in the hands of the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates.
I am not impressed by the argument that such matters should be left to the lawyers. As a Member of Parliament, I believe that there are occasions when a politician has to state his views and the case of his constituents, because the truth of the matter is that the whole appeals procedure faced by policemen—deprived, as I have already said, of the help of their professional body, the Police Federation—is highly unsatisfactory.
If you or I, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at 2.30 in the morning, had to get three young men, who had possibly drunk more alcohol than was good for them, into a van, at the third attempt, there being three of them against the two of us, might we not have ruffled their clothes a bit? This is not to suggest that we would have roughed them up, still less perpetrated a cowardly and brutal assault. But it really is high time that some of these young sheriffs spent a fortnight with the police on duty, witnessing some of the problems in the raw which have to be faced by the policemen of today. It is very easy for some sheriff lawyers to pass sentences in this kind of situation without having very much idea of precisely how difficult is the job that society asks the police to do.
361 I make it clear that I would not condone it if it were absolutely clear on medical evidence that there had been assault by the police. None of us would condone that. On the other hand, when there is no medical evidence, ought not the courts at least to give the benefit of any doubt to the police, when they are outnumbered, when they have a difficult job to do, and when people are far freer with the use of physical force than they used to be when confronting the police? We all ought to face up to that question.
Before the courts come to any kind of final conclusion on this sort of case, ought they not, before believing witnesses who were all roisterers at a party, to ask how it came about that three young men were let out of a police station at 6.30 on a Sunday morning in such a condition, with signs of bloodstains and injury?
I have to ask the Under-Secretary directly, as I have in a letter, this question: is it conceivable that responsible police officers in the police station at Falkirk, at 6.30 a.m. on Sunday, 4th July, would have allowed three young men to leave the station if they were not in a fit state to do so? My belief is that in circumstances of this sort the police in this country are very responsible. If they were let out in a fit state, it puts a different complexion on Sergeant Jamieson's position.
What is the right action to take in such circumstances? The Lord Advocate has appointed the Crown Agent who, after all. is in a sense internal to the whole situation. I am not in any way suggesting that he should not be appointed. He has doubtless great qualities and is a very senior and unbiased man. No one in his right mind would think of him as biased. But I wonder whether, as a matter of principle, in such a situation the right course is to choose the Crown Agent, and whether there should not be some kind of judicial inquiry procedure.
The issue of complaints against the police must be looked at afresh in the conditions which the police now face. I suggest that some kind of outside relatively quick judicial inquiry might be the answer to this problem. If the Home Secretary or the Scottish Secretary have a better solution, doubtless they will tell the House. One thing is clear. The current position is deeply unsatisfactory.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has done a good service to his constituency, as he frequently does, and has given a good service to the House in bringing forward the case that he mentioned. However, he will forgive me if I turn to more general matters in the context of this general debate on the prevention of crime.
Although we have debated crime prevention on several occasions in the last year or two, I feel that, generally speaking, the House is far too complacent about the violent crime explosion which has burst on the nation. We certainly appear to be more complacent in the House aout these matters than are the public in general.
Crimes of violence have more than trebled in the last 10 years. Last year, crimes of violence to people increased 10 times as much as the increase in other crime, and crimes of damage to property increased nearly 20 times as much. We in this country have a record number of crimes, a record number of prisoners, a record number of prosecutions awaiting trial, and a record number of crimes which have been reported but not cleared up. An eminent criminologist has said that for every crime punished five crimes go undetected. All this is not due to any increase in population. We know that 20 years ago the number of indictable offences per 100,000 of the population was about 1,000, and it has now risen to over 4,000.
Governments have endeavoured to deal with the situation by what I would call the offender-oriented approach, namely, that one should recognise the type of offender, be he an amateur, such as most shoplifters or a professional criminal, and tailor the sentence to the needs of that offender. In too many cases the result of that kind of approach in terms of punishment is that the matter is settled by the social worker or the psychiatrist or even the administrator—and one has in mind the Parole Board—rather than by the court before which the offender is brought. I believe that the trend has swung too far, and that the approach to violent crimes, particularly violence against the person, should be more victim and potential victim-oriented rather than offender-oriented.
363 To that end there should be much firmer sentences for crimes of violence, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said earlier, and magistrates should be given powers to lock up offenders particularly young offenders, in "glasshouse "conditions. I am not referring to shaven heads, but to the short, sharp treatment and the disciplined control that one can give in that type of detention. I couple that with the use of the community work sentence under effective attendance centres.
At present too many offenders get off any of these punishments because we have not the prisons, detention centres or attendance centres to which offenders can be sent. The number of unpaid fines is a national scandal and probation is a reward rather than a punishment.
Let us forget for the moment murder and capital punishment and let us try to make sure—certainly the public wants us to make sure—that we have the appropriate punishment for the crime of brutally assaulting and maiming a fellow human being, a crime all too often committed just for the sadistic hell of it, and all too often committed, with the bully's cowardice, against old people. One wonders whether there is any punishment to fit that sort of crime.
It is a crime that is multiplying by reason of the shortage of police to protect the public—we know that this year there are now 700 fewer police officers than were operating in January—a crime that is multiplying because of the criminals' complete contempt for the punishment he may get, if caught. Let me take three or four recent examples from Liverpool. Stephen Sherlock, an 84-year-old legless cripple, attacked on his bed, hound and gagged, beaten about the head until his skull was fractured, knocked unconscious for several hours—and robbed of £2. Alice Mitchell, a widow of 78, beaten about the head, the face and hands with her own walking stick. She was a pianist, but her hands are now useless and she is a nervous wreck. Gladys Taylor, a widow of 74, attacked in the street, thrown to the ground and jumped on, now very lame and very nervous—robbed of 30p. Alfred Smith, an 87-year-old widower, held against a wall when he opened his front 364 door, beaten about the head, a lacerated eye and now blind in that eye—robbed of nothing.
I have many other cases of this sort from the Liverpool area, and no doubt other hon. Members can give examples from their own constituencies, but the terrible thing is that, until a voluntary organisation called "Victims of Violence "discovered these people, no welfare worker or social worker had called on them. It seems to me that the resources of the social services are lavished, through probation and otherwise. on the criminal, but that the victim is a social Cinderella.
How is it that we have become a society that mollycoddles muggers and pharisaically passes by on the other side of the street to the victim? I despair of altering the attitude that now exists till we again legalise corporal punishment. As well as seeing that, at once, we gear the social services to meet the needs of the victims of violence, such as those I have described, let us restore the balance a little and bring back the birch for the muggers, the vandals and the holligans.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I shall take up the remarks of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) in a moment, because I take a rather different view of the way in which we can help the police in their onerous burdens in fighting the rising tide of crime.
In the nature of things, the debate on the Queen's Speech is wide ranging and I, as others, shall be referring shortly to several matters which are not strictly within the flood tide of this debate on law and order, but I shall refer to other matters which are within the remit of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and on which legislation is promised from the Home Office in this Session.
I wish to say a few words about the police and the great difficulties they face. The police force in the area which I represent, in Derbyshire, is one of the four forces in the country more than 10 per cent. below strength. The local police force in our area and the public feel that strain greatly. I personally wish to pay tribute to the police, not merely in Derbyshire but nationally, for the good sense and calmness with which they have approached the negotiations with the 365 Home Secretary. I am bound to say that I shall be referring to him in a more polite way in a moment, but the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) did not help too much with some of his more militant utterances about a possible police strike and so on in a week or two before the police settled for the 10 per cent. plus an inquiry. I very much welcome the inquiry. I hope that it will be wide ranging and I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about it today.
It is a fact that the policemen themselves know that tie conditions of their service and the difficulties within which they operate have to do with many more things than simply conditions of pay, and the matter of their morale covers a wide area. It covers the wide area of duties which they now have to perform and the wide range of jeopardy within which they feel they are placed.
Here I was particularly interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said about a particular police case. The hon. Member for Bury St. E:Imunds, in his capacity as adviser to the Police Federation, knows of another case in my constituency. I shall not mention the police sergeant's name, but I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the fact that in this case we have had the sergeant concerned reinstated in the police force after an extraordinary procedure, which 1 shall mention to the House by way of illustrating that what was discussed in the case of the Bo'ness police is not necessarily untypical in other parts of the United Kingdom.
There is a police sergeant in my constituency with over 20 years of blameless service who was complained of by the mother of a person related to him whom he was alleged to have assaulted. The person whom he was alleged to have assaulted made no complaint and, indeed, at a later stage wrote to give evidence on his behalf to the Home Secretary.
This police sergeant was summoned one Friday afternoon before a senior officer of the Derbyshire Constabulary, having been told that he could bring a friend with him, and was then summarily dismissed from the force. That was on a Friday afternoon after 27 years' service. That case ultimately went on appeal to the Home Secretary, and the Home Sec- 366 retary, I am glad to say, has reinstated my constituent, with his rank, with effect from the date when he was so dismissed.
Matters of this kind—I do not wish to take the time of the House by speaking at great length about it—illustrate the degree to which the police require additional protection in some circumstances because of the very nature of their role, because of the fact that they do not have and cannot have a proper trade union, and because they cannot have recourse to all of the procedures against unfair dismissal to which almost all other industrial workers in the country have recourse.
Therefore, as I said a moment ago, there are special reasons why the police know that their relationship with the Home Secretary, the Home Office and the Government of the day is a very delicate question of balance, and where matters are raised such as my hon. Friend has raised with the Scottish Office and with the Home Secretary, and I have raised in the case in my constituency, clearly they are an illustration of that sort of balance.
There are other difficulties, too, to which I shall briefly refer because they were the substance of my right hon. Friend's speech when he was discussing the question of violence at marches and on the picket line. In shorthand terms, we have been referring to these things lately as the Lewisham and Grunwick syndromes. Here, of course, the police have been under very great strain in both circumstances. The Fascist-style marches taking place in our streets at the moment have caused concern and great provocation. They have put the police under very great strain, whether or not the march has been banned.
The extraordinary sight of Mr. Martin Webster being accompanied by almost every policeman in Salford and Greater Manchester as he made his solitary protest march in the streets after the 'panning of a National Front march showed how many police have to be deployed even when a march is banned. I am not personally one of those who believe that political organisations should be banned. It is one of the greater glories of this country that we do not ban political organisations. As has been said already, there is a major problem at issue if one bans an organisation and it then goes underground or changes its name or in some public sense produces an insignificant change in its ideology. What does 367 one do? At what point does one go on banning?
Clearly, however, on the other side it must be said, on behalf of the citizen and on behalf of those who are provoked, as well as on behalf of the police, who have to maintain law and order, that a march that is designed to be provocative and can be seen to be provocative and that is going to go through areas in which it will cause the deepest undercurrents of strain and tention should be prevented. It should be prevented by the use of the Public Order Act. If the 1936 legislation cannot do it, that legislation should be reviewed, and quickly.
I happen to believe that an error of judgment was made at Lewisham, although, as I do not represent that area, I shall not go into it in any great detail. An error of judgment was made there in not banning that particular march and allowing it to go ahead, with the deplorable consequences that we saw.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I do not disagree with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I agree with a great deal of it. However, would he accept that enforcing a ban can often be just as demanding on the police service as policing a permitted demonstration? Let us suppose for the sake of argument that there had been a ban in the case of the Grunwick picket. It would in any case have involved exactly the same number of policemen to enforce the ban as to police a permitted picket.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I shall deal with the Grunwick matter in a moment. I think that I accepted something of what the hon. Gentleman has said when I was discussing the number of policemen needed in Manchester when ban was enforced by the local police authorities there. Nevertheless, I believe that where a march inevitably will lead to trouble where all the signs are that it is intended to lead to trouble, intended to be provocative and intended to strike fear into the hearts of those who live along the way, the proper responsibility of the authorities is to prevent the march. I do not believe that that is an interruption of free speech or anything of that kind. I think that the right of peaceful assembly should be protected, but the right to harass, provoke or terrify by an intimidator march is something else again, and 368 we have to see what the law can do about it.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds raised the question of Grunwick. I believe that on the matter of Grunwick, as I said to my right hon. Friend in the course of his speech, a major omission from the Gracious Speech was to any reference whatsoever to a possible change or a review of the law of picketing. We are told that these things take time, and the Grunwick dispute, meanwhile, is rolling on. Today it has gone to the House of Lords for the third round in the endless game of legal ping-pong which has so far allowed the management of that unhappy place to defy a very large section of opinion in this country and to set at nought the court of inquiry which was held into that affair.
I personally believe that we shall get nowhere with matters of this kind until we see what is the proper right of pickets in relation to those who are going into work at a place where there is a dispute, and what are the proper rights of the police in protecting those legal rights on the part of the pickets and the rights of those who are going into work. That simply is not happening at Grunwick at the moment. At Grunwick there is a kind of extended street battle which will take place each and every time a mass picket is called.
Until we can understand and get the participants to understand exactly how persuasion can be exercised, we shall not get very far. I do not believe that persuasion is properly being exercised when a double-decker bus can charge a picket line with split-second co-ordination with the police force in the area. I do not, equally, believe that personal persuasion is being exercised if a large group of people surround, physically intimidate and prevent the entrance of those who do not wish to be persuaded by the arguments being deployed.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says about the inevitability of Grunwick continuing. I am not at all clear why this should be so.
So far as the public at large are concerned, the gentleman who seems to play such a part in organising the unseemly and disgraceful events at Grunwick, 369 Mr Jack Dromey, has asked a rhetorical question in a newspaper today. He says.Do the British public expect us to pack up our bags and go home after 15 months?Does the hon. Gentleman not think that the British public's answer to that is to tell Mr. Dromey that he can go to hell and as soon as he likes?
§ Mr. Whitehead
It is time that the public told Mr. Ward to pack his bags and go away. His conduct has been grossly inflammatory. I think that he has been badly advised, sometimes by those who have a political axe to grind in this matter, and I think that he is denying to workers in his factory basic rights which were won after people had been starved out in lockouts in my constituency and many others 120 to 140 years ago. It is extraordinary that in the 1970s this man should be behaving in the way in which he is and even more extraordinary that he has been getting the advice that he has from some elements —not those on the Opposition Front Bench—within the Conservative Party.
I want to see the law brought to the point at which we no longer have the endless dispute abcut what is legal and what is not legal outside the Grunwick factory. That will not of itself end the Grunwick dispute. Only a sudden outburst of reason enveloping Mr. George Ward will do that, and I see no sign of that happening. Mr. Ward is beyond reason. He has no knowledge of what century he lives in m terms of industrial relations.
Mr. W. R. Rees-Davis (Thanet, West)
Whatever view is taken on the balance of power between trade union and management, a picket means a man stationed by a trade union to watch men going to work during a strike or industrial dispute in order to endeavour to dissuade and deter them from doing so. That is the definition of a picket. The law has remained identical on that since 1875. The problem surely is that it is difficult not to have trade unionists seeking to restrain the crossing of a picket line. Thus there are differenceF between the trade union attitude and the middle-class attitude. Have we not to find some way out of this problem other than picketing by which peaceful persuasion can be done within the factory and not at the factory gates?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I do not wish to be drawn too far into this matter. There is no way in which peaceful persuasion can go on inside the Grunwick factory. Mr. Ward will not allow his employees to be balloted about trade union membership. He has refused to allow participation by ACAS or to permit the union now concerned or the Transport and General Workers' Union on an earlier occasion to secure and maintain membership in the factory. He has sacked people who tried to join trade unions.
That is why the persuasion—if I can call it that—is going on outside. The hon. and learned Member mentioned legislation. If there is a line of little Gujarati ladies standing outside the factory, how do they persuade a double-decker bus that is charging at them? I do not see how the law can enable them to exercise their right to persuade the people in the double-decker of their point of view, and there is therefore a lacuna in the law which must be put right.
I must put distance between myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) who said that capital punishment must return, and that it must be an eye for eye: those who rape must be raped ; those who fraudulently convert must be fraudulently converted. I can see a difficulty in recruiting people to carry out some of the punishments he had in mind. I say to-those who have raised the issue of capital punishment that I do not believe that even the threat of terrorism is prevented or diminished by the use of and the possibility of capital punishment.
We have seen in the case of the Baader Meinhof terrorists that they were prepared to execute themselves in order to further their cause. The fact that they might have been in a different society with more repressive measures and that they risked being summarily executed for the crimes they had committed would not have deterred them. It would have made martyrs of them and they would have known how to exploit it.
I wish to raise now two points not concerned with the police. I warmly welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech for the reform of Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. That is long overdue. There have been various uninspired leaks to the effect that we shall 371 not get it this Session. I urge the Minister who is to reply not merely to promise us that there will be a White Paper and legislation within this parliamentary year, but to tell us as well how far this legislation will go along the lines of an official information Act, which I believe is necessary. I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister that such legislation would be widely supported in this party and in the Liberal Party if it could be got on to the statute book this Session.
My final point concerns broadcasting. The Gracious Speech mentions—and the Home Office will have this heavy respossibility—that legislation will be introduced to alter the: structures of broadcasting. I am alarmed at some of what I hope are the uninspired leaks coming out of the Home Office to the effect that very little will be done this Session about broadcasting. I commend to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the recommendations of the Annan Committee on the subject---that we should have a public inquiry board, an open broadcasting authority, and an open broadcasting authority to run the Fourth television channel rather than handing it all to ITV.
The financial difficulties of the BBC are an indication that expansion cannot come in that sector of the service. The BBC has problems maintaining, with licence revenue at a time of high inflation the services that it has. By the decision of the Home Office we effectively have an annual licence review rather than a triennial or quinquennial review.
I do not believe that we should leave to another Government, possibly of an other party, or to the lethargy and lassitude of possible future Administrations a question as important as the introduction of a measure of plurality into the broadcasting of this country. We know what the commercial lobby, and those on the Conservative Benches who support it, would like. They would like an ITV2 and all that goes with it. I hope that we shall have an assurance that the Government's thinking on this matter is radical and is much more in line with the recommendations of the Annan Committee.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I undertook to speak for 372 only 10 minutes, but I have been referred to on no fewer than nine occasions in the debate and, while I shall endeavour to contain my remarks within that time, I hope that I shall be forgiven if 1 stray a little beyond it.
While the House has been in recess there have been committed in this country just over half a million crimes. During that time the number of policemen injured has risen to just on 1,000 per month. On the international scene we are faced with hijackings and terror on an increasing scale. On the local domestic scene the number of muggings and thefts are reaching a scale which frightens ordinary people.
In those circumstances what is happening to the forces of law.1.nd order? While crime is rising, police numbers are falling. While terrorism is increasing, the Special Branch is having to withdraw its officers from many of our ports of entry. While five out of every seven burglaries are no longer cleared up, there is a restriction on the overtime of the CID. While thousands of old people are frightened to go cut at night, a large number of town centre police divisions have fewer than three or four officers available for patrol duty at night.
This is the operational reality of the police service. It does not tie in at all with the picture that the Home Secretary painted. The facts are that police are undermanned and overworked and that their morale is now very low. Many of them are leaving the service because they are unable to make ends meet on their present day. I have hero hundreds of pay slips showing that police officers are taking home less than £45 a week. I do not say that they arc typical. I say that they exist in their thousands and that such a rate of pay is not sufficient for the job.
I want to deal with the Government's appointment of Lord Edmund-Davies and his committee to review the vexed question of police pay, of police representative institutions—namely, the Federation —and, of course, their negotiating machinery. At the outset I say at once to the impudent suggestion of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who knows nothing of this subject, that the Police Federation some 18 months ago, and certainly with my advice, set itself three targets.
373 First, we wanted a change in its negotiating machinery. We wanted to get out of the Police Council and to find a better way of negotiating police pay and conditions. Secondly, we wanted an inquiry into our representative machinery. As the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalycll) pointed oat, there are limitations on the Police Federation which are no longer acceptable. Thirdly, we wanted an independent inquity into police pay. We have now got all three. I am proud to have been associated with the Police Federation in achieving all three of those objectives.
Lord Edmund-Davies is a man for whom I have the utmost respect. He is a wise choice and he will do a good job. However, I wish to put to the Minister a few questions about his terms of reference. First, he has to consider the fact that police responsibilities have increased. I think that is right. He has to consider the work load of the police in terms of crime and public disorder and he will also, rightly, consider the stresses and dangers they must confront.
All of this is right, but in my view the key area in the terms of reference given to the Edmund-Davies committee is the need to ensure adequate police strengths. We should forget about the present establishments. They were set well before crime reached the 2 million or 3 million mark and before public disorder became a major national problem. It is important that Lord Edmund-Davies should be able to look at the whole question of establishments rather than relate his conclusions to the present and unrealistic establishments.
I offer a personal opinion. I believe that our establishment is probably short by about 20,000 police officers, many of them in the big cities. It is indispensable that in his investigation Lord Edmund-Davies should be able to look at establishments from scratch.
The second point about his inquiry relates to the representative machinery.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Does not my hon. Friend recognise that this includes the very important question of recruitment over a wider area, including graduates of universities, accountants and people coming in later in life who can provide the versatility and experience which is necessary, more particularly in the areas of detection and investigation?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend, who has made that point consistently over the years.
I turn now to another question about the Edmund-Davies committee. I believe that when it comes to consider the negotiating machinery that will need to replace the now defunct Police Council there are a number of points that the Government should consider. The first is that the police are unique. I think that is accepted. The second is that police pay must be outside politics. I believe that the police should be regarded as part of the legal rather than the administrative system of our country and that they should have their pay dealt with in the same way as magistrates and judges, that is to say. outside national or local politics.
The body determining their pay must reflect these two facts—that they are unique and that their pay should be outside politics. I hope that Lord Edmund-Davies will be able to consider a wide range of negotiating systems such as the pay review in the Civil Service, although nowadays that is not very popular, or the farm price review approach which is one way in which another important public matter is considered.
There are various ways in which one can approach this whole negotiating machinery. But I am clear about our conclusion. The recommendations of an in-pendent police pay body must be reported directly to Parliament, rather in the same way that the Boundary Commission recommendations are laid by the Minister directly to this House. That would be an important safeguard for the police service.
I wish to touch on two other matters that will fall to be considered by the committee. I think it would be wrong for the Police Federation to become a trade union. There is no way in which a police union affiliated to the TUC could carry out its objective duties free of political influence. Equally, I think it is right that the police should continue to be denied the right to strike. The Police Federation unanimously passed at its last conference a resolution demanding that it should have the right to strike.
But I want to make plain my own position since it has been suggested from the other side of the House that somehow I and my right hon. Friend have been 375 acting as the fomentors of a police strike. I told the Police Federation conference—which listened to me although oth,:r policemen howled down the Home Secretary—
§ Mr. Griffiths
If the hon. Gentleman will listen, he will discover that I said precisely the opposite to what the police wished to hear. I said :The theory of a police strike is that Government would capitulate. Perhaps it would, perhaps it wouldn't. But if Government did capitulate, consider what you would have done. By force, or threat of force, you would have asserted the ability of one powerful group to impose its sectional will on those whose job it is to represent every other section of the nation.The miners did that once. Ever since, we have lived to rue the consequences. Not only in terms of inflation but in the decline of the authority of the State.Is that what the police service wants?Are you really prepared to be the miners of '78 or '79? To go down the road towards a society where the rule of law is cast aside…where the muscle men grab all they can take…where the weak and the old and the helpless, all of those who you as police officers are committed to defend, are literally driven to the wall?The only people to gain anything from a police strike would be the thief and the mugger and the terrorist.Nor should you imagine for a moment that you—the police service, would come out of such a conflict unscathed.A police strike would set policemen against policemen, rank against rank, branch board against branch board.You would forfeit, probably for a long time, that trust and confidence of the public which still is your most valuable asset.I concluded that part of my speech:Finally, I have no doubt that, sooner or later, in one way or another, any Government which had been worsted by a police strike would take steps to equip itself with some other means of guaranteeing its authority and ability to govern. No State can be left in pawn to striking policemen. So the State would find other guardians. Either by martial law, or more likely as already has happened in France, Germany and Italy, by building up an alternative State security police force—a CRS as in Paris, a Gendarmerie as in Belgium, the Carabinieri as in Italy.Those then are the words that I used to a conference of 2,400 police officers who had just passed unanimously a demand to have the right to strike. I therefore 376 will not accept it from any hon. Member opposite that I or any other person on this side of the House sought to foment industrial action among the police service.
On the contrary, on every occasion to every journalist and to every television or radio commentator with whom I have discussed it I have said that the police on all counts must not strike and that it would be a catastrophe for the nation. But what I have also said and now say again to the present Government is that to have stretched the patience of this most dedicated service to a point where it was possible for it to contemplate strike action is a measure of how badly the Home Secretary and his advisers read the true position of the police.
I come back to Lord Edmund-Davies It is quite clear that a trade union is the wrong answer. Strikes are certainly the wrong answer. The police, however, are a special case. This House has made them a special case, for it is this House that denies to the police the civil rights available to other citizens. It is this House that lays upon the police duties not required to be performed by other citizens, and it is this House that requires them to risk their limbs and their blood to defend us. In all those circumstances the police are a special case. I believe that the Government, belatedly, have recognised that fact in appointing the Edmund-Davies committee.
The most important aspects of the Edmund-Davies committee are when it reports, what it reports and what the Government do to implement the report. I am glad that the Home Secretary—but only after I pushed him—acknowledged in the House today that there is to be an interim report. It will not do to give the service 10 per cent. and then to hold back and hope, almost for ever, that little or nothing more is required. Much more is required, and it is important that Lord Edmund-Davies should make an interim report in the early part of the New Year recommending some further improvement in police pay and conditions. I believe that that will happen.
But, just as in the nineteenth century it was said that Canning proposed and that someone else—I believe, Monroe—disposed, in this case it will be a matter of Lord Edmund-Davies proposing and the Home Secretary disposing. The House 377 needs to know what the Home Secretary intends to do about Lord EdmundDavies's recommendations when they reach him.
At the conclusion of this debate the Minister of State will do a service to the police and to the country if he says that it is the intention of the Government, fulfilling the undertaking given by the Home Secretary to the Police Federation, to accept the recommendations, that lie will lay regulations in this House to implement such increase as may be recommended and in such phases as the Government in their wisdom believe necessary, that those regulations will be laid before the House rises for the Easter Recess, and that implementation in terms of money into the pockets of the police will happen before the Summer Recess.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I shall not attempt to take up any of the arguments about the police adduced by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). However, I must discount his argument—and it is one which is put forward frequently—that there is a direct relationship in our society between the rewards which people obtain and the industrial muscle which they possess. Looking at the social structure a century ago and comparing it with that of today, we see that now, as then, there are many groups with no great industrial muscle, such as barristers, accountants, property owners, developers, company directors and others, who do not appear to have any enormous industrial weight and o could presumably withdraw their services for a considerable time without any drastic result to the community but who command rewards which all the miners in my constituency would regard as wealth beyond their wildest dreams. That is the simple rejoinder to the comments of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds.
I wish to concentrate on the institutions at the centre of our penal system which are widely misunderstood, about which there is an appalling level of public ignorance—ignorance even amongst men who should know better—and about which there is appalling confusion as regards their role and purpose. I refer to our prisons, for which the Home Secretary is responsible. The subject of 378 prisons crops up constantly in debates of this kind, though rarely are they the central theme of these debates. In my view, it is time that they were.
I have said already that there is enormous confusion about the purpose of our prisons. In a short speech, it is too much of a job to give a full explanation, but I know that prisons are at the centre of our penal system. We in this House constantly pass laws which have the effect of sending people to prison, and magistrates make constant decisions which put people in prison, with little awareness of the effects or the circumstances which arise once those decisions are made.
It is also strange that rarely are the public expenditure consequences of those decisions considered. We should remember that it costs about £78 a week to keep a person in prison. That gives me the opportunity to repeat the oft-quoted concept that it would be far cheaper to send male offenders to Eton and female offenders to Roedean. That is the order of the public expenditure involved, yet that is an expenditure which is never considered.
When we insert penal clauses into Bills we do not consider the public expenditure effects on the Prison Service. Neither does a magistrate when he decides to send someone to prison for six months instead of five months. It does not occur to him that he is making a public expenditure decision of not inconsiderable importance. When all these figures are added together, they make up an important total.
I take no pleasure in saying that our prisons are in a state of crisis. Hon. Members will appreciate that that phrase is not mine. It is a phrase of Roy Jenkins, who said that if the prison population reached 42,000 there would be a crisis situation. Since he made that statement the prison population has reached that figure.
Our prisons are in the most appalling condition. I am not a softie towards criminals. There are many unpleasant and extremely dangerous people in our prisons. But we also know that large numbers of the people in our prisons are there in quite unacceptable conditions. We know, for example, that 15,913 share cells designed for one prisoner. We 379 know that, of that number, 4,995 are living three to a cell. What is more, they are cells which were designed by Victorians who were hardly known for their leniency in the treatment of offenders.
Added to that we have the fact that, once a person is in prison, the odds are increasingly that he or she will spend a great proportion of the day in a cell. One of the effects of the cutbacks in public expenditure is that prisoners are spending more time in their cells because there is less money available for educational and other activities in the evenings. Many prisoners live three to a cell and are locked up for 15, 16 and in some cases 20 hours a day. The average working week in a prison in good times is about 22 hours. It is not difficult to imagine the period of boredom and monotony when people are locked up in appallingly overcrowded conditions, and how it becomes worse and worse.
People tend to forget, too, that prisoners have families. Very often they will be living on supplementary benefit. A case has been brought to my notice of a woman with two children who, after all deductions for rent, electricity, and so on, is left with £7.10 a week for food and clothing to bring up her children. Surely it is elementary common sense that, if there were some incentive given to prisoners to support their families outside by working for a proper reward in prison, it would be of tremendous benefit and might even result in some sensible conclusions about family ties.
A prison seems to be almost designed to disrupt, damage and destroy family life. I can think of no better hope for a man coming out of prison than that he should have some sort of family life to which to return. It is difficult enough for an ex-convict with a criminal record to find work when we have 1.5 million unemployed. It is difficult enough for him to meet bills which have accumulated during his time in prison. If an ex-prisoner is to have a cat in hell's chance, he should have some sort of family to which to return and some sort of stability so that he may go back into society and try to build life anew for himself. While in prison his family life is hopelessly, and in many cases needlessly, disrupted. It is almost as if the Home 380 Office—I regret to say this—meant to do it.
A man may be put in a prison miles from his family, which makes it almost impossible for them to visit him. The rare prison visits which occur take place in conditions in which it is practically impossible to have any sensible dialogue with one's wife, let alone one's family.
I have tried to explain that, although I want to draw these matters to the attention of the House, I do not see myself as a softie in penal matters. I do see myself as someone who would like to think that when a man is released from prison it is less likely that he will commit another offence that will put him back in prison. It is almost as if the penal system was designed to produce criminals, to create social misfits and casualties.
If we take a perfectly balanced individual—there are many examples in the House, more on the Labour side than on the Conservative Benches—and put him into a prison, three to a cell, we know what will happen. Let us assume that one of the other prisoners is an alcoholic and the other a homosexual. That would not be untypical. Let us assume that he has virtually no contact with his family, and has virtually no work to do in prison. Let us assume—it is true, of course—that he has no decision of any consequence to make for the period that he is in prison. There is a complete abrogation of all the normal decisions which most of us have to make and which mean the difference between being a civilised and capable individual and being an automaton.
I imagine that after a year of that slopping-out every morning—and there is the most appalling stench in most prisons when slopping-out takes place—we would have a moderately disturbed man on our hands, even though a healthy individual went in. But we are not doing this to healthy people. We are doing it to people who are already damaged, for whatever reasons. By their nature, people who arrive in prison are damaged and they invariably come out even more damaged.
All of this is not, from my point of view, a criticism of the staff in prisons, prison officers and governors. It is staggering that our system works. If it works at all, it is due to the quite incredible skills shown at times by governors and 381 prison officers. They are simply the repositories of decisions made by us, by the magistrates and by the judges, often without the slightest thought of the consequences.
A man is committed to prison and thereafter it is up to the prison officers and governors to sort matters out. This is a crisis in our prisons. It is surely a crisis if we are spending money in this way to no effect, when the only solution put forward is more of the same medicine, namely, that if we put people in prison for longer periods or put a wider range of people in prison we shall achieve the solution we seek, we shall be a society without severe crime, the public will be protected, and so on. There is no evidence for that.
I can list a few of the things needed from the Home Office. I do not say this with any great expectations of results. I am not referring specifically to my hon. Friend the Minister of State when I say that the Home Office has a pretty gaunt, grey reputation. I was staggered when it moved its location. I thought it was the function of the Home Office to look gaunt and grey and that the people inside had to look miserable. The Home Office has not been known for its imagination over the years. I must admit that, in comparison with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), the Home Office is looking like a rabid revolutionary. Imagination is needed, and that is what has been lacking.
I do not seek to score "pop "points, but this is Jubilee Year. It has been celebrated in various ways in different parts of the country. In virtually every other country on an occasion like this there would have been some sort of amnesty granted. 1 am not referring to an amnesty for those in prison for crimes of severe violence. All too often we concentrate on these when they are a small minority. It would have been a little imaginative to have let out some of the people who are not a danger to society, some of the misfits. We could have cleaned out the prisons and reduced overcrowding by a small amount in one year so that the prison officers could breathe for 10 minutes before the next crowd came in.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
I hate to be fair to the Home Office because, like the hon. 382 Gentleman, I have always considered it to be the original inhabitant of square one. However, to be fair to it, it did propose that there should be a Jubilee amnesty. There were consultations and as a result of those, and the strong reaction that was discovered, it was decided to drop the idea.
§ Mr. Grocott
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It seems that the Home Office is always incredibly nervous about what the public "is deemed to think. Of course, the public is anxious to be protected. I know that if one of my constituents who had been robbed of £500 was asked whether he would like the individual who had robbed him to go to prison for a year and for himself to receive no compensation or for the person to go to prison for six months and for himself to receive his £500 he would choose the latter. That is a crude way of putting it, but it is a fact that people, as well as wanting to see the criminal punished, want some sort of recompense for property that has been stolen. Most crimes are crimes against property. A lot of the money we spend on the prison system could be used to compensate people.
I have suggested an amnesty. There is a range of people in prison who ought not to be there. Alcoholics, petty debtors, vagrants—all of these should not be in prison. There are many similar groups. Of course, the mentally sub-normal should not be in prison, yet many of them arc. The same applies to the mentally ill.
I wish to refer briefly to a constituent of mine, an innocent police witness, who was sent to prison for refusing to be bound over to keep the peace. My hon. Friend the Minister of State knows this case well enough. I wish to acquaint the House with the details. A constituent of mine, Mrs. Valerie Waters, at the end of last year took part in a demonstration with an organisation called the Hunt Saboteurs Association—an organisation which will immediately arouse prejudice among some hon. Members. The undisputed facts of the case are that, while taking part in the demonstration, Mrs. Waters' car was damaged and she was assaulted. As a result, charges were brought against those responsible for the assault.
383 My constituent was no longer interested in the case and took no further part in it until she received a letter from the police insisting that she attend court to give precise details about the damage to her car. An estimate had been given, but the police told her that she had to attend. She would never have gone if it had not been for that and she would never have been in prison had she not gone to court at the request of the police. She went because the police said it was necessary for her to give evidence.
Mrs. Waters went to court unrepresented—people do not normally think of hiring a solicitor if they go to court as witnesses. During the course of the proceedings she was told by the magistrate that she must consent to be bound over to keep the peace. She refused, as much as a result of a state of confusion as anything else to begin with. As a result she went to prison at Wal rington—as far away from her family as the Home Office could arrange—for four weeks. During most of the first week she was classified as a convicted criminal and treated differently from prisoners into whose category she fell. That was another Home Office blunder. This was yet another case of idiocy in sending some. one to prison. It was pointless. In addition. that decision by the magistrates cost at least £1,000 in public expenditure.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
Do I understand that the lady was never charged with anything?
§ Mr. John
My hon. Friend seems to be ascribing omniscience and omnipotence to the Home Office, but it is not a fact that the blunder in this matter was committed by the Home Office ; it was the court getting in touch with the Prison Department. If the court does not do its work right, it is a travesty to suggest that it is the Home Office's responsibility. My hon. Friend's remarks would bear greater weight if he were not to show such unselective glee in belabouring the Home Office as being responsible for almost everything except a cloudburst.
§ Mr. Grocott
It was an outrageous case and was not in every respect outside the remit of my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend at the Home Office. I know that a constituent of mine suffered injustice after injustice, not only in the events which led up to her being sent to prison, but afterwards. That injustice continued not only in her classification but in the refusal of the Home Office to move her anywhere near her home. I shall not belabour the House with any more of the details of this case, but my hon. Friend's flexibility is not one which I can apply to the Home Office in this instance.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does not my hon. Friend agree that in the Norman-French gibberish of the 1361 Act the magistrates arc offered two versions? One is that they must see whether she is of good repute, and the other that they need not do so. The sooner that law is changed, the better.
§ Mr. John
If defending the Home Office is perhaps a crime, I should plead guilty. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) has talked of Home Office inflexibility. If my hon. Friend were being fair, he would add that, once this lady's wrong categorisation was realised and appreciated, the Home Office acknowledged the error, her category was changed and a couple of days were knocked off her sentence as a recognition of the error by the courts.
§ Mr. Grocott
It is true that she was in prison for only 28 and not 31 days. If that is progress, there is a lot to be achieved. Surely, innocent people should not be in prison, and surely it is part of my hon. Friend's job to try to prevent innocent people from being in prison. I am not blaming him personally—
§ Mr. John
This is a monstrously unselective attack. It was the court which imprisoned under the law as it stands. If my hon. Friend wants to change the law, he must try to do so. The Home Office can intervene in a decision of the courts only if it appears that a miscarriage of justice has occurred, or if they acted outside their authority. Neither appears to have happened in this case. The facts are not disputed by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend seems to be affected by the 385 view. widely shared, that the Home Office should intervene in every case which has turned out badly for a constituent.
§ Mr. Grocott
My hon. Friend invites me to change the law. He is sufficiently conversant with parliamentary procedure to know that it is tar more likely that he could change the law. So far, the Home Office has steadfastly refused to consider changing the law in this respect. If there is a need for a change in the law, that must be his responsibility. All I can do is gesture, and that is certainly not satisfactory in this case.
I fully accept that the blame is with the magistrates who sent my constituent to prison and with the law that exists. That event is over, and my innocent constituent is now out of prison. It is my hon. Friend's job to try to change the law so that the circumstances that resulted in an innocent person going to prison cannot recur, so that a witness who is helping the police in a prosecution cannot be sent to prison in this way. This is a matter that we should do something about. That was a brief diversion. [HON. MEMBERS : "I apologise to the House, but the case has gone on most of the summer and the autumn.
Quite apart from the fact that there are far too many people in prison for offences which should not be imprisonable offences. those sent to prison all too often are sent there for far too long—I am talking particularly about crimes which do not involve violence. First offenders are sent to prison for an average of 21 months. Some include people guilty of violent crime, but they are by no means the majority.
Most of the evidence shows the shock of imprisonment to someone who has never been there before—the shock of the first week, the shock of finding himself in an institution with all the inevitable rules that govern it, the shock of the ignominy. The effects stay with him for the rest of his life, affect his job prospects, and so on. That is the scrt of thing that we should be concentrating on. There are too many people in prison, and those who are there are inside for too long.
It is a pity that more people outside, certainly those in responsible positions in the community, do not make it their business to visit prisons and see what they are like. For instance, I should like 386 students from sixth form colleges to see what prison is like on the inside. If this were done, the notion that prisons are soft places, that one has an easy ride in them, and that they prevent people from repeating their crimes would once and for all be thrown out of the window.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Mr. Grocott) has used colourful language—some of it, to put it mildly, exaggerated. On the other hand, a good deal of what he said would find some sympathy in certain quarters on this side of the House, including those of us involved in the study group to which reference has been made. Indeed, had I not known of his interest already in the topic, I would have suspected that he spent the recess reading our report. If he has not done so, I shall gladly arrange for him to do so. He will find that some of his sentiments do not differ so much from ours.
I want to deal with two aspects. One is how we deal with potential criminals and the other is how we limit the opportunity for criminal activity. With regard to the latter, one topic of considerable concern at present is the increasing extent of vandalism. There are many ways in which we could limit the opportunities for vandalism.
I have an example in my constituency in houses which are being vacated by the local authority with a view to their being pulled down and new property built. I had complaints from constituents living nearby that children were getting into these places, vandalising them and causing all sorts of damage. They were an invitation to such activity.
I made inquiries as to why action was not taken more quickly. The answer was that, whereas in the past it was possible for a local authority to pull houses down straightaway, under a new Department of the Environment circular it has to get permission from the Department's regional office before it can invite tenders for the demolition work and that after tendering it has to go through another procedure in order to get the favourable tender approved, and only then can the work be carried out. That is an example of bureaucratic nonsense. It slows down 387 the demolition procedure and makes vandalism that much easier. There are other ways in which architects and designers could give some consideration to designing buildings, open spaces and so on so as not to give an open invitation to vandalism.
In this connection, I particularly commend the work of the Department of Education and Science, which has recently issued a draft leaflet on vandalism in schools and colleges. The commonsense reaction of the National Association of Head Teachers has been that vandal-proof materials and equipment should be used and buildings should be built so that they are not what has been described as anonymous spaces which invite those so inclined to vandalise the property. The Association of Head Teachers recommends making certain windows from unbreakable materials and not providing ornamental rockeries which offer ready-made missiles for the vandal. The association comments on the provision of liquid fire-extinguishers which can cause great damage in a short time. Some of these comments are worthy of consideration in a wider context than that of schools.
We often do not know that someone is a potential criminal until he has committed his first offence. There are ways in which one can spot the environment from which criminal activity can spring, but often the first indication that there is a criminal on our hands is his first no-soserious offence.
The method of dealing with that first offence is crucial. There can be no doubt that for some offenders prison is the only answer, as we made clear in the report of our study. We felt that there were certain offences. particularly those involving violence, from which society must be protected and that prison was the only answer.
There are other ways of dealing with a number of offenders, preferably within society itself. I should like more use to be made of supervision within the community, particularly by the Probation Service. Such treatment must be better than keeping a person in prison in conditions such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth. If those could be combined with 388 the community service order, so much the better.
I support the principle behind parole. There is ample evidence that long prison sentences are of no benefit to the prisoner. I make two provisos about parole. First, there must be adequate supervision of the person paroled. Secondly. it is vital that the parole system should have the support of the general public. I plead with the Home Secretary that, whatever advice he may receive from well-meaning sources, he must not prematurely release terrorists or those involved in particularly unpleasant crimes, such as the murdering of children. To do that would undermine public confidence in the parole system.
I urge the Home Secretary to consider introducing a custody and care order. which would enable the courts to send a person to prison for a time and then to keep him under close supervision in the community afterwards. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth indicated the disadvantages of keeping a person in prison for a time and the cost to ths, community of so doing. The custody and care order would achieve what the hon. Member wants to achieve.
The proposals I have just made involve the use of the Probation Service and of more probation officers. I have been disappointed that neither in the Gracious Speech nor in the Secretary of State's comments today has the word "probation "even appeared. He will know that a year ago the size of the Probation Service was frozen. I hope that before the day is out we shall hear that there is to be a change of policy by the Government in regard to the restriction on the size of the Probation Service.
The Home Secretary said that some of the £9 million was to be spent on community service orders. Is this to be simply on materials and facilities so that community service orders can be put into effect? Without more probation officers it cannot be done.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I believe I mentioned the places where on 1st December there is to be an extension of community service which is outwith the extra money. It follows that if there is an extension of community service orders to an area there must be more probation officers. However, I shall look at the 389 matter. I believe that I mentioned Cornwall.
§ Mr. Sims
I am grateful to the Home Secretary. I again emphasise that we must have more probation officers, not only to implement the community service orders, but for their ordinary work. Probation officers do very useful work and they all have a heavy case load. I recently spoke to a girl who is qualified as a probation °leer but who is experiencing difficulty in finding a probation service able to take her on. It costs £78 a week to keep a man in prison. Although it is true that the £78 a week is not automatically saved if he is placed on probation, such a course of action must in the long run save money and be better for the community.
I turn, finally, to those criminals who do not figure in the statistics. It is obvious that if we are to nip crime in the bud, that means stopping young criminals. I have expressed my views previously on the Children and Young Persons Act.
I invite the attention of the House to some of the criminal statistics for 1976 which refer to those children who were found guilty of or cautioned for indictable offences. The figures are—12-yearolds, nearly 20,000 ; 11-year-olds, 13,500 : 10-year-olds, 8,500. One looks in vain to find how many there were aged 9 or 8. Children of that tender age are not considered to be capable of crime. Yet is it likely that if such a high number of children aged 12, 11 and 10 committed crimes, children aged 9 and 8 do not commit crimes or what would otherwise be described as crimes? Of course they do, but under the present law children of that age are not held to be criminally responsible.
Many juvenile courts will have had experience of having had before them three or four lads who have committed a crime. The police say "It was a large gang, but the others cannot be brought to court." The juve -tile court knows that the reason is that the others were under the age of criminal responsibility. Many a policeman will tell of young lads who yell at policemen "Yah, yah ; you cannot catch me." These lads know that the police have no control over them as they are not yet 10.
390 If it is important to deal with the young offender aged 10 or 11, it is surely equally important to deal with the offender aged 8 or 9. At present such offenders can be brought to court only if there is proof that the children are in need of care that they would not receive if a care order was not made. Unless the social worker can prove that such children come from a particularly disturbed or broken background and therefore can be made the subject of a care order, they cannot be brought before the court.
I accept that there may be some children under the age of 10 who will commit what would otherwise be a criminal offence without realising it. However, there are other children who get involved in criminal activities and know exactly what they are doing. They are a danger to themselves and to society. It is common knowledge that children are more sophisticated nowadays.
Not long ago the House decided to lower the age at which people can vote from 21 to 18. It must be in the interests of society and of children to consider seriously whether we should not lower the age of criminal responsibility. That is not the backward step that it might appear to be.
I do not expect the Minister of State, when he replies to the debate, to agree immediately to introduce legislation along these lines, but equally, I hope that neither he nor the Home Secretary will reject the thought that we should consider lowering the age of criminal responsibility on the understanding that it will be implemented only in appropriate cases. I invite him to consider the evidence which I and others have given to the House and which is freely available to his Department.
We can, alas, never eradicate crime, but we can do a lot to prevent youngsters from growing up as criminals. We should leave no stone unturned in our efforts to do so.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)
I promise to be brief, because I participated in the previous debate on this subject last Session. I very much agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) who said that there was a need to preserve the family life of a prisoner so that he can 391 have somewhere stable to return to upon his release.
Many people tell me, without reflecting upon the matter, I am sure, that prisons are a sort of hotel in which they would not mind spending a while. The very people who make that kind of remark in the local pub are those who would resent it most if they found they were deprived of their personal liberty and freedom to walk down to the pub.
We must resist the temptation to expect an instant cure for everything. The fact that we have instant coffee and instant mashed potato is no indication that we are able to offer an instant cure for crime.
Recently I visited Glasgow. I always enjoy visiting Glasgow, because I find the inhabitants convivial, talkative and helpful. The one thing that emerged from the question sessions at the end of my meetings was that people always wanted to talk about law and order. It was a question that I considered a fair amount of the time that I was there.
Despite pressures upon me in my constituency, I am still unable to alter my view on capital and corporal punishment. I am still opposed to both. I do not deny that there have been and may be still societies in the world where this is the only possible means of dealing with criminals. But I am by no means satisfied that it is the only way—or even a good way—of dealing with criminals in our society.
There are environmental factors in producing criminals—multiple deprivation, poor housing and amenities and unemployment. In so far as the Government proceed to tackle these matters, as promised in the Queen's Speech, they will be helping to lessen crime in the long run, and possibly in the short run, too. as far as unemployment is concerned.
It has been said many times tonight that our prisons are full, but they are often filled with a lot of the wrong people. I make a plea to keep alcoholics out of prisons and provide them with detoxification centres.
I should like to comment on a matter that has received a great deal of sensational publicity in the last few weeks—the special unit at Barlinnie Prison. I deplore the type of sensational journalism 392 which leads to people getting wildly inaccurate ideas about what is going on in such a place. I welcome the Secretary of State's intention to continue the experiment. It is a very valuable experiment and it deserves to continue and succeed. I hope the Secretary of State will take heart from knowing that he has my support.
s I turn to the problem of the carrying of offensive weapons. I mentioned this in my last speech in the House on this matter. It is a subject that was impressed upon me time and time again by people I met in Glasgow.
I spoke to some of my hon. Friends and other Scottish nationalists about providing the police with stop and search powers when they are faced with a person suspected of carrying such weapons. I was surprised by the reaction of solicitors, who tended to feel that these powers possibly would be misused by the police in harassing people. We have to tackle this matter, because it is causing a great deal of disquiet in the larger towns. Perhaps we could have a provision introducing these powers for a trial period to see whether they have a noticeable effect in preventing people from carrying offensive weapons.
The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) spoke about child and adolescent criminality. We are all quite clear that we must try to prevent youngsters from getting deeply into criminal ways. No doubt in the Scottish Grand Committee we shall have an opportunity to discuss the various reports on Scottish Education that came out during the summer holidays. These deserve to be debated either by the House or the Grand Committee.
I wonder whether at some stage we shall need an inquiry into just how successful children's hearings have been. We must allow the new experimentation to go on for a reasonable period in order to get proper conclusions. But many people are asking if children's hearings are providing a softer option than the old juvenile courts. Do we need to look at the age at which young people cease to be treated as children for the purpose of children's hearings? Although I know that there were good reasons for fixing it, I wonder whether the age of 16 is too high. Perhaps we should take another look at this.
393 The old Probation Service has been taken into the general social work scheme in recent times and I wonder whether we should take another look at this, to decide whether general social workers, involved in a multiplicity of different social cases, are the best people to deal with probation work, bearing in mind their many other responsibilities.
On the subject: of the police, high morale is produced by many factors, and obviously among them is pay. I hope that the inquiry into this will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion both for the police and to society in general. It seems to me that if the police force is suffering from undermanning better pay would certainly stimulate a certain amount of recruitment, although pay is not everything.
Another most important factor in police morale is public esteem. I am concerned that there are people in our society whose aim is to undermine the acceptance of reasonable authority. I am not pleading for authoritarianism, which is just as disastrous as the opposite. In undermining the acceptance of reasonable authority these people undermine the esteem in which the police are held by the public, and this is a serious matter. Are we really entitled to expect that policemen should be the victims of crowd violence when that violence is caused by people who have deliberately set out to be violent? We are riot entitled to put such a heavy burden upon the police.
In conclusion, I refer to devolution. The creation of the Scottish Assembly should have an effect on national morale in Scotland because it will bring an added measure of responsibility to us and, by that token, it will have a certain effect on crime. It will certainly take time, but I am sure that it will have some effect—although I remain convinced that independence would have more.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I and all other hon. Members who have spoken so far tonight certainly agree with the view of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) that there are people in prison who should not be there or who ought to be given other forms of treatment or punishment.
It is not entirely surprising that I am pleased to be able to say that I agree 394 entirely with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). He and I sat on two study groups,. one on prisons and another on juvenile crime. I much appreciate the reference& that the Home Secretary made earlier to the study group on prisons. I was exceedingly glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman had read its report and also the report produced by the Conservative Committee on Juvenile Crime and the Eleventh Report of the Expenditure Cornmitee on the working of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. However,. my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), and most of us on this side of the House would be even happier if the Home Secretary could say that, having read each of the reports, he was now prepared to do something to implement at least some of their recommendations.
I refer briefly to prisons. There is no doubt that the subject is inextricably linked with the prevention of crime, because the proper use of prisons can help to reduce crime. It can help to reduce crime by keeping away from crime those who would, if out of prison, probably engage in it by inspiring a fear of this form of punishment of such strength that people are discouraged from engaging in crime and by reforming prisoners who are serving sentences.
On the other hand, the misuse of the prison system can be equally effective in stimulating crime by keeping in prison for long sentences those who ought not to be there. Prison can produce an association the influence of which may commit a prisoner even more deeply to evil ways when he leaves custody. The use of a long term of imprisonment, if applied to someone in the wrong way and misused, can make a person passively able to accept his lot and can extinguish all possibility of a future fear of a repetition of the sentence. Of course, if a prisoner is kept in prison for a sentence that should not have been imposed on him the chances of reform of that prisoner become remote.
If one extinguishes hopes of reform, one must then face the basic question, "What on earth are we doing keeping some 42,000 people in prison, with some 15,000 of them sharing two or three to a cell built by our Victorian forefathers for 395 only one person? "That is one of the main questions that trouble us on this side of the House. I know that it troubles my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and many hon. Members on the Government Benches, and that was why a study group was set up to find out what answers could be forthcoming. The Home Secretary is well aware that our study group came to no dramatic conclusions, but I hope that some of the priorities that we pointed out may be of guidance in finding a sensible solution to the problem that we are now examining.
We came to the conclusion that prison has three purposes. One is to punish, the second is protect the public, and the third is to reform the prisoners. I say very sadly that, having visited various establishments and in view of all that we saw and heard, the last of those functions is the one least likely to be fulfilled.
The function of prisons that I should like to deal with is that of punishment. As the years go by, the ideas, proposals and theories of experts begin to waver and change. There are fashions among criminologists which change just as often —but not always as attractively—as fashion itself. I should like to tell the Home Secretary about an experience that I had a little while ago. I shall not say where it happened or the identity of the person involved, but he was a criminogist of some distinction and stature who was speaking to a specialised audience.
He said that from the early sixties and up to the beginning of the seventies there had been a fashion among those interested in these problems to say that we should move away from punishment and that we should treat offenders in a different way, to say that punishment was not the answer. I do not think that I am exaggerating or giving undue weight to this point in saying that the Home Office was fed with such views.
From what has happened, it seems that the Home Office swallowed those views and acted upon them. We were told that the whole concept is changing and that what many of us had suspected for years is now an accepted truth, namely, that the effective way of dealing with people who break the law is to punish them.
396 The question arises : what form should this punishment take? I have always believed, and anyone who has spent a good deal of time going around the country finding out public opinion on this matter will agree, that the public has been steady in its view that people who break the law should be punished in some way. Members of the public want to see criminals punished and I believe that they are right.
It is not a punishment—and it is not recognised by the public as such—for a person to be convicted. That is merely an acknowledgement by a court of a state of affairs that is well known to an offender. So what is an effective punishment? Should we send people to prison for a long period for the purposes of punishment alone? If one is thinking of protecting society, a long term of imprisonment is justified, but if we are thinking of punishing someone, should it be by a long or by a short term of imprisonment?
The view of the study group, which has been expressed inside the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and outside the House, is that, wherever possible, the best punishment available for a person going to prison for the first time is a short term. However, if there is to be a short term, there must be imposed the sort of discipline that is absent at the moment. I understand that this is also the view of the Advisory Council on the Penal System. It was expressed in the study group's pamphlet "The Proper Use,)f Prisons "and, as far as I can remember, it is the view of all the prison officers and governors that the group met. I believe that it is a valid view and that we should have short, sharp sentences because they would be effective.
§ Mr. Gardner
The study group's recommendations pointed out carefully that the short, sharp sentences should be applied only in suitable cases. That must follow.
One of the most important recommendations of the study group is that the 397 Government should adopt the Younger Committee's proposals for a custody and control order. My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst has explained his support for the idea. I believe that it would be of immense value to the courts and 1 urge upon the Home Secretary not only the reasons that lay behind the recommendation as a suitable way for dealing with young offenders, but the suggestion of the study group on prisons that the orders could be equally useful and effective for adult offenders.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
I hope that my hen. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) will forgive me if I do not take up the points that he argued so cogently. I wish to raise another Home Office matter on which we require a statement from the Government.
On the last day before the Summer Recess, I raised, rather late at night, the matter of the allegations by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) against MI5 and the claim by Mr. Chapman Pincher in the Daily Express that listening devices had been planted in 10 Downing Street.
The debate continued late into the following afternoon and, having been pressed by the Leader of the Opposition and other hon. Members on this side of the House, the Prime Minister made a statement which, it is fair to say, was inadequate. That is not surprising because it was only an interim statement and there was no opportunity for us to debate it before the recess. We therefore have some unfinished business and this is the first opportunity that the House has had to return to the matter.
I shall remind the House of the allegations of the forrner Prime Minister because they were very serious. I refer to them as his allegations because since they first appeared in The Observer in July, the right hon. Gentleman has not denied that he gave the Press the story that was reported. We must therefore presume that he accepts that he has been accurately reported.
The first allegation was that MI5 was incompetent and politically biased. The Press reports referred to two cases where, it was alleged, MI5 had confused two hon. Members, who are now both 398 Ministers, with other people. The Prime Minister was reported to have said that the head of MI5 had told him that there was a disaffected faction of extreme Right-wing views inside the service. The reports said that the right hon. Gentleman believed that the service contained a faction sympathetic to the Rhodesian and South African authorities. That is serious enough, but it was by no means all.
The reports went on to say that the former Prime Minister had declared that MI5 was saying that he was tied up with the Communists and that MI5 knew this. He said that for the last eight months of his time as Prime Minister he was not certain that he knew fully what was happening in the security service. He is reported as saying that he had been worried by reports reaching him from Lady Falkender that the CIA might be involved in attempts to infiltrate 10 Downing Street, and that he had checked on this through the Americans —apparently because he did not have enough confidence in the British security services to check through them.
That is the gist of the reports in The Observer on 17th July. On 24th July. it carried an even more serious accusation that also appears to have come from the former Prime Minister. It was claimed that important information about the British counter-intelligence services was feared to have reached Russia through a former MI5 officer who had worked for the Russians while remaining in his post in London.
I repeat this extraordinary catalogue of accusations because the House should recall, three months later, how serious they were. They must have been highly damaging to the morale and potentially, to the efficiency of the security service. The security service is of vital importance to the defence of this country's interests. We are only too well aware of recent indications of the subversive effort that the Soviet Union directs against this country. One of the jobs of the security service is to resist those efforts.
Statements of the kind attributed to the former Prime Minister should never have been made in public, let alone by an ex-Prime Minister who, only a short time before the statement was made, had direct responsibility for the security services. These accusations by the former Prime Minister are too serious to be forgotten 399 and too serious to be swept under the carpet by the statement issued from No. 10, Downing Street on 23rd August.
That statement reads:The Prime Minister has conducted detailed inquiries into the recent allegations about the Security Service and is satisfied that they do not constitute grounds for lack of confidence in the competence and impartiality of the Security Service or for instituting a special inquiry.In particular, the Prime Minister is satisfied that at no time has the Security Service or any other British intelligence or security agency, either of its own accord or at someone else's request, undertaken electronic surveillance in 10 Downing Street or in the Prime Minister's room in the House of Commons ".In the light of that statement, one might have expected some reaction from the right hon. Member for Huyton to the effect that he accepted that statement from the Prime Minister. Instead we got something rather surprising. We got a report in The Observer on 28th August. a few day later. The report was headlinedSir Harold accuses MI5 Mafia ".It reads, in part, as followsMy impression is that what has been going on over a period of years has come from, or been led by, a small mafia group of MI5 who have contacts outside in one or two sections of the Press and a few self-appointed private enterprise security agents.It goes on after a passage which is not material:I am equally confident that the higher direction of MI5 and those operating today do not have anything to do with this nor have they done so at any time.One welcomes the last words in the report, but the headline and the introductory words give the impression that the right hon. Gentleman was renewing his attack on MI5. In effect, he appears to have been repeating the accusations even after the denial from 10 Downing Street.
What are we to make of these events? My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, on the same day as the Downing Street statement appeared, that she shared the Prime Minister's confidence in the security services. I am sure that all Conservative Members support that view.
However, there is another point that must be made. In effect, the statement from 10 Downing Street says that in his accusations against the security 400 service the right hon. Member for Huyton was talking nonsense ; nonsense about its alleged inefficiency, nonsense about its alleged bias. Seldom can there have been such a sharp rap over the knuckles by a new Prime Minister for a former Prime Minister of the same party. It is surprising that so little attention has been paid to that. What it amounts to is that there has been a statement that the former Prime Minister was unfit to hold the job that he had held as the Minister responsible for the security services.
That is my comment on the No. 10 statement. However, it raises many other questions. That is why we need another statement from the Government. The Prime Minister should make that statement to the House. The statement from 10 Downing Street was issued with the Prime Minister's authority. Although the Home Secretary is also responsible for the security service the No. 10 statement said that the Prime Minister himself had made detailed inquiries into the matter. We should not expect the Minister of State, who is to reply to the debate, to answer the questions that I shall ask, because he is not a member of the Privy Council and cannot be expected to have access to the delicate information involved.
These are my questions. Did the former Prime Minister tell the present Prime Minister of his anxieties about the security service before he spoke to the two journalists who subsequently gave their report to The Observer? Did the present Prime Minister discuss with the former Prime Minister these accusations after they had appeared in the Press or after the debate on 28th July? If so, what was the result?
It seems to me that this matter involves a breach of security. How is it that this breach of security was made by an ex-Prime Minister? Are we correct in believing that the right hon. Member for Huyton gave these interviews to the two journalists? Is it right that it was the ex-Prime Minister himself who made the initial approach which led to the publication of these interviews? Did he give his approval for their publication? We must assume that he did because,,o far as I am aware, no correction has been issued by the right hon. Member for Huyton and he has made no comment which suggests that he did not approve of publication.
401 Why did not the D-notice system operate to protect the security services? If the right hon. Member for Huyton did give these interviews to the journalists, did not that amount to a breach of the Official Secrets.Act? Does the Prime Minister propose to refer this matter to the Attorney-General to pronounce on that point?
The Statement from 10 Downing Street referred to detailed inquiries which the Prime Minister had made. He should therefore be able to deal with these questions. But there are also questions that should be answered by the right hon. Member for Huyton. I sent the right hon. Gentleman a message saying that I proposed to raise this matter today. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber. He was not in the Chamber during the earlier debate. Nevertheless, I shall put the questions before the House because the right hon. Gentleman should direct his attention to them. Many of the questions that I have listed for the Prime Minister should also be answered by the right hon. Member for Huyton, but there are other questions that are for him alone.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the Prime Minister's statement from 10 Downing Street of 23rd August or does his statement about the alleged MI5 Mafia amount to a repudiation of that statement? Secondly, if he had these anxieties about MI5 when he was Prime Minister, why did he not try to remedy the situation at that time? How can he say that he did not know what was going on?
Is that not a most extraordinary confession to come from a former Prime Minister? One would expect a man who had reached that position not to accept a situation of that kind but to remedy it if necessary by changes in personnel or dismissals. It seems an astonishing statement to have made and it should be cleared up.
The last question is, what was the motive of the right hon. Member for Huyton in making these statements to the Press? We have seen some strange accusations in the last from the right hon. Gentleman. Many hon. Members will remember his claim at the time of the second election of 1974 that "cohorts of distinguished journalists "are combing the highways and byways with a mandate to find anything true or false to 402 use against the Labour Party. I frequently questioned the former Prime Minister about those allegations when he was in office.
Now that the right hon. Gentleman has left office and is therefore not available at the Dispatch Box we must rely on the evidence he gave to the Royal Commission on the Press. From that it is perfectly clear that that statement at the beginning of the October 1974 election campaign was a pre-emptive strike designed to cover the possibility that the Press might publish something detrimental to the Labour Party. That emerges from the former Prime Minister's evidence to the Royal Commission on the Press.
Then we have what has been referred to as the South African connection. The right hon. Member for Huyton, referring to accusations that had been made against the then Leader of the Liberal Party, said in the House on 9th March 1976:I have no doubt at all that there is strong South African participation in recent activities relating to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party, based on massive reserves of business money and private agents of various kinds and various qualities."—[Official Report, 9th March 1976 ; Vol. 907, c. 245.]More recently we have seen the revelations of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) about what transpired between him and the then Leader of the Liberal Party. The then Leader of the Liberal Party, having visited the then Prime Minister regarding charges concerned in a court case involving someone who has been in the news more recently, said to the hon. Member for Rochdale :It will be pushed on to South Africa.That is what the hon. Member for Rochdale said in his recent book. This makes it clear what was the motive in the accusation that the former Prime Minister made—that it was to help the then Leader of the Liberal Party. As the hon. Member for Rochdale put it in his book :If the South African allegations were a calculated red herring one can only assume that Harold was eager for the Liberal Party to hold on to its vote-catching leader.The I.iberals had given Labour power in the previous two elections by luring votes from the Tories.We now know that the inquiries into the South African connection were dropped. That was stated by the present 403 Prime Minister in the House in October 1976. But it is clear what the motive of the former Prime Minister was in that connection.
So it is evident from the record that the right hon. Member for Huyton, when he conjures up these mirages which on closer examination tend to have no substance, does things with a motive. Recent Press reports have stated that the right hon. Gentleman may be prepared to withdraw his allegation about the South African connection if new evidence, which he expects to receive, indicates that that allegation was made without foundation. This was stated in the Daily Express on 15th October. We wait to see whether the former Prime Minister will withdraw that allegation.
In his book "The Governance of Britain ", written quite recently, the right hon. Member for Huyton has a very brief chapter on security. It is so brief that it is very difficult to find it in the book. It is brief because the right hon. Gentleman recognised at that time the sensitivity of security matters. I think that the House was surprised when those stories appeared in The Observer, because we then saw the former Prime Minister appearing to break his own rule that security matters should be treated as delicate ones.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find some opportunity of coming to the House and making a full statement on this matter. I hope that it will be a statement in which he makes clear that he withdraws his allegations against MI5 and is satisfied with the statement issued from 10 Downing Street, and that he accepts it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Order. We have approximately one hour before the winding-up speeches begin and there are still live hon. Members who have been sitting patiently to catch my eye. I hope that hon. Members will so co-operate that I shall be able to call all five hon. Members in the next hour.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
On 27th January I first raised in Parliament the issue of the private security industry. After one, two, or even 10 speeches I did not necessarily expect to 404 convince the Home Office that legislation was necessary and inevitable. Any delusions that I might have had would have disappeared in the meantime, because in the Queen's Speech there was no mention of the licensing of the security industry, which did not surprise me. However, if I and other hon. Members keep making speeches, perhaps the Home Office will relent, and at some stage—I hope in the not-too-distant future —we shall see legislation instigated either by a private Member, or preferably by the Home Office, to bring within public scrutiny this very large and important industry.
§ I am not a hired gun of the security industry. I do not speak on anyone's behalf. If I did, it would devalue my contribution to this debate and I should be unable to speak honestly on the security industry, and the industry would perhaps be somewhat inhibited in any conversation with me. I speak because I feel that licensing of the industry is necessary.
Right hon. and hon. Members are obsessed with analysing the role of the police in combating crime. I have done some research on debates on crime prevention and law and order in the past five years, and have looked in vain for a reference by any hon. Member to what is—whether one likes it or not—the second arm of combating crime and crime prevention—namely, the private security industry. Many more people are employed in the private security industry than in the official police force. When I last spoke in the House on this subject I said that anyone who went into the street would be far more likely to see a van belonging to Securicor or Group 4 than a police vehicle.
The growth of the private security industry has been phenomenol, not only in this country but in almost every advanced free enterprise, or mixed economy society. The official police are now being outnumbered. Yet while we scrutinise the operations of the police and have quite rightly created public scrutiny of the actions of individual policemen. we know little about the operations of private security. I should like to ask social scientists, criminologists, hon. Members, civil servants and journalists seriously to examine the private security industry, not necessarily in a muck-raking 405 way—although in some cases that would be valid—but to Ind ways in which the private security industry could perform more efficiently and supplement the police in the important task of crime prevention.
Concern about crime is not necessarily the preserve of one party or another. I do not exaggerate the consequences of crime. I am not paranoid as some about crime trends in our society. We are a more law-abiding society than most. But I believe that the growth of private security has gone on almost unobserved, and without Parliament taking appropriate action, first, to control and, secondly and more importantly, to allow this industry—which could play a much more important part in crime prevention —to function more efficiently.
Private security has a long history, predating the emergence of our official police force. In many cases it is an honourable history. While Governments have been funding their own police forces, citizens' organisations and companies have felt that the protection afforded by the police has been inadequate, and have therefore sought throughout the world the assistance or those hiring themselves to provide adequate security.
This staggering growth and mushrooming of private security has not been matched in any way by Government measures to upgrade the industry and make it more efficient, more effective and more accountable. I estimate that there are now well over 15,0,000 people involved in private security. This is not just the guarding operations for cash in transit, such as are supplied by Securicor and Group 4. There is an enormous growth of in-house security, with companies employing their own security forces instead of resorting to contract security companies. There is a growth of retail security. There is a growth in consultants and so-called consultants in security. There is a growth in private investigators and an amazing development of industries creating technology in security, such as alarms, safes, two-way mirrors, and that sort of security equipment.
We are neglecting to combat crime as effectively as we ought if we ignore the security industry. I want to see investigation and action se that this industry is able to play its important role. At the 406 moment it is not doing so. The faults of the industry are obvious—low public estimation and in many cases hostility by the police. In many societies the police and the private security industry are able to work with a not unreasonable relationship. One would not want to have too close a relationship. Although it might be acceptable for the private and public sector police to have a better relationship, in many cases the police, quite rightly, look down on many aspects of private security. The people they are dealing with are in some cases people with a past which does not stand up to close scrutiny. Sometimes they perform hopelessly inefficiently. This needs to be investigated very carefully by a committee of inquiry, a parliamentary committee or an internal Home Office Committee.
Other characteristics of the industry are the poor working conditions and the low wages, as well as the danger. We hear a great deal about police being beaten up and exposed to danger, but a person guarding a factory at night on his own, or guarding hundreds of thousands of pounds in transit, is exposed to equal or even greater danger. Such a person, dare I suggest, is in the firing line much more frequently than even the police. There is in this industry a high turnover and very often low wages and por working conditions. The people working in the industry are often inadequately trained, or not trained at all. If we expect to raise these standards, we must lay down some criteria by which an authority looking at the industry will be able to.ay that there must be some form of training.
These are some of the defects of the industry. In some ways the industry is made worse by the intense competition. Not everyone here today will deplore competition, but in the case of the security industry the competition is exacerbating the situation. Poor companies are bidding for contracts against good companies. When hiring a private security company, people are not necessarily discerning and are liable to go for the lowest bid. When a bid is low it means that the men are badly paid and that, for example, one man is guarding property on his own for maybe 36 hours. It means that the company is employing people who are not trained and that there is hardly any supervision. It is very important to have an adequate number of 407 supervisors. Such companies do not employ the right equipment, or they use none at all. The are operating from shops or front rooms and not from bona fide offices. These are the companies which are able to put in poor or low bids.
The good companies are very often small ones. Small companies are not necessarily filled with criminals or inefficient. There are some excellent small ones. These are people who are trying to run a good service and to pay reasonable wages. They are trying to operate with proper equipment and to have proper supervision and training. But they are finding themselves undercut by the poor companies.
I should like to see regulation of the industry which would eliminate the inefficient and also eliminate those in the industry with a criminal past, not involving merely minor criminal offences but serious crimes. There must be some form of legislation laying down criteria for entry into the industry not only of companies but of individuals.
There are many forms of legislation that the Government could pas. One form of licensing that I would oppose would be licensing by the industry itself, for many reasons. It is much too important a matter to be left to the industry itself. Maybe there are some areas of society where an industry can police itself, but security and crime prevention should not be exclusively in the hands of the industry or of any association that it might wish to set up. I do not think that the industry is competent to do it. I think that the public would mistrust any internal regulation that the security industry could devise. The industry is so vast and so dispersed, and with so many different elements, that I wonder which section of the industry could be charged with internal policing.
I believe that there ought to be public licensing. An authority should be set up with a chairman, together with representatives of the industry, representatives of the consumers of the security services, representatives from the insurance world, the police and the public. That is the intention of my Private Security (Registration) Bill that I intend shortly to reintroduce. This authority should have the power to control entry and to raise standards. This is something that must come. Licensing of 408 this sort could be done not in opposition to the industry but in conjunction with it, because most of the industry is in favour of licensing. Most of the industry is quite prepared to submit itself to public accountability.
The industry would gain in many ways and undoubtedly the public would gain, because crime prevention would be taken on efficiently by another group of men in addition to the official police. They could work in much closer conjunction with the police. I believe that this close liaison and elimination of hostility could have profound effects on the fighting of crime, and that the public in some ways would gain financially, because in many ways prices are increasing because of theft. Prices in the shops are higher than they ought to be because of the element of undetected criminality. If the industry is made more efficient, undoubtedly this will have some effect on pricing. But certainly I should not want to over-emphasise that aspect at this juncture.
Licensing, therefore, is imperative. So far the opposition to it has come from the Home Office, who argue that there is not, as yet, evidence of need. I believe that there is. I believe that it is up to the Home Office to examine its own statistics and to consult the crime prevention officers. They can provide the evidence. I can and will provide hundreds of Press cuttings, but the Home Office has the capacity to look at the industry and talk to the crime prevention officers and to show that there is a criminal element operating within the industry. I am not arguing simply in terms of criminality but in terms of needing to raise the standards of the industry. The advantages to the public would be very considerable. The advantages to the consumers of security services would be very considerable. The industry would gain very much itself.
In conclusion, may I add that we have not as a nation paid sufficient attention, in seeking to combat crime, to the question of architectural design. In the universities and colleges, urban planners and architects should pay greater heed to crime prevention than is now the case. I suspect that in syllabuses of institutes of higher education little attention is being paid to crime prevention. Much more can be done in design terms to limit the likelihood of crime.
409 I shall take every opportunity in the coming months to raise the subject of the private security industry in order to provide a more efficient second arm to combat crime. I shall seek to liaise with the industry and to bring the pressure of public opinion on the Home Office. At present it is a skirmish between myself and the Home Office. I must tell the Minister that I shall be on his back until the time comes when this industry is licensed. The Minister will be subjected to incessant speeches on this subject until he agrees to set up a committee of inquiry to examine the allegations I have made and until the Government agree to introduce legislation to license this activity. It is long overdue, and I shall welcome any action in that respect.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In the remaining 40 minutes before I call the speakers on the Front Benches, I should like to accommodate four hon. Members who are anxious to take part in this debate.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made an interesting speech, but I am not sure that I want to hear him make the same points incessantly on future occasions. I appreciate the serious issue to which he drew attention, but I have a built-in prejudice against new authorities. I believe that the market forces are likely to weed out the security companies which make use of under-paid old gentlemen to be on duty 36 hours at a stretch, and that there will be greater use of those companies which pay proper wages and which operate their businesses efficiently. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not spend any longer in taking up his arguments.
It is true to say that more people are now devoting their energies to discovering the reasons for crime and how to counteract it than has ever before been the case, but at the same time we are suffering greater incidence of crime than ever before. The trends which have been mentioned by the Home Secretary and also by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) are horrifying, but I am afraid that we must all realise that, much as we should like to do so, we shall never be able to poison all the roots of crime. I suspect that the time of the House will he more 410 profitably spent in examining the present means of catching offenders, the procedures for bringing them to justice and what we do with them once we have convicted them.
Most hon. Members have concentrated on one or other of those aspects. I simply wish to voice a slight grievance at the speech of the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott), who, I think, said that Conservative Members when discussing the subject of law and order did not seem to be interested in what goes on in prisons. The Minister of State will recall—because he was present on that occasion, although the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth was not—that in March this year I was fortunate to win a place in the Ballot and consequently we spent a Friday discussing the subject of the prisons.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Surely the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) was out of order. We are supposed to be talking about the reduction of crime rather than debating what happens afterwards in prison. This House today has hardly discussed the reduction of crime.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I propose, if allowed to do so, to do something to remedy that situation.
It is trite to say that the best deterrent to crime is the belief that one may be caught.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am glad to hear that my hon. and learned Friend agrees with that remark. One's chances of not getting caught get better as the numerical strength of the police gets worse. I warmly support all that has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) about the need to improve the rewards and conditions of the police. I welcome that part of the Queen's Speech which envisages that some small improvement will be made in the funds available. The police are our principal agents in crime prevention.
But there is another limb to the equation, namely, the chances of being convicted, even if caught, in the mind of a criminal who is wondering whether to 411 embark on further criminal operations. The more experienced the person, the more he realises that, even when the handcuffs close on him, all is far from lost. He will know that judicious silence in face of questions from the police will significantly impede their investigations and improve his chance of acquittal.
Secondly, he will know that his silence cannot be made the subject of any adverse comment at his trial. He can keep "mum" and at the trial he can come forward with a detailed and complete defence, none of which he need have vouchsafed earlier when the police investigations were under way. Nobody can make any adverse comment about him on that score. He will know, in short, that if he keeps his head and his silence, nobody will be able to tell the jury trying him that if it is so minded it is proper for that jury to treat his earlier silence as a straw in the wind that points away from innocence.
At present the wretched jury, confronted with a mystifying matrix of rules and technicalities of evidence, can only be told that, although the prisoner said nothing when asked, he was entitled to take that course. That is all the jury is entitled to know.
I know that there are deeply held feelings in defence of this curious state of affairs, but I believe the time has come not only to strengthen the numbers of police—and we all agree about that—but to strengthen their hand. I am convinced that this can be done without derogating from the cardinal principle that one is presumed innocent until proved guilty on evidence, a principle on which we have always prided ourselves and I hope always shall.
I would leave untouched the elementary core of the right to silence, namely, that a man can never be compelled to say something, still less be guilty of an offence, if he keeps silent. That is inherent in the presumption of innocence. But what I complain of is that the fact that, when confronted with an accusation a person keeps silent, that fact cannot itself, by our rules, be capable of being evidence that that person is to be considered guilty. That is spoken of as some kind of fundamental principle. I believe that it is nothing of the sort. The relevant principle which is fundamental 412 to our law is that the accused person should always be treated fairly and never have to prove his innocence.
How would that be prejudiced it, in a case where a full defence is revealed only for the first time at the trial, a judge or prosecuting counsel were able to say to a jury that if it supposed, and if it were so minded, that an innocent man would have wanted to explain all that at the outset of investigations, it could properly take into account the fact that he kept silent.
If the person blushes when questioned by the police, hesitates or breaks into a sweat, that may or may not be thought to be significant. But one can give evidence at the trial about it and the jury is entitled to take this into account and give what weight it thinks fit to it ; nobody says that the jury cannot take it into account. Why cannot we trust the jury to use equal common sense and knowledge of humanity when considering the silence of the accused when the matters it is trying were first put to the accused? If we trust the jury on the issue of guilty or innocence—and I do trust it—why cannot we trust it to decide on what is or is not relevant?
If there is a principle, heavens above, we have already broken it without, so far as I know, any misgivings. It is part of the common law that if one is found in possession of recently stolen goods and one can give no reasonable explanation, that is capable of being evidence of one's guilt. The Minister of State knows that. More recently we have enacted that if one is going to run an alibi at one's trial, one must give prior notice of that alibi within seven days of one's committal for trial. That seems to me to be a very closely parallel case.
As long ago as 1898 we enacted that a judge could comment upon the fact that a prisoner had not given evidence at the trial. The reason why this right of silence has been elevated to a principle is that up to 1898 one could not give evidence in one's own defence at all. One's counsel could argue only on the law and not on the facts. Until 1907 nere was no appeal from the finding of a jury, whatever the summing up was like. At about the same time the first Judges' Rules were made requiring that a caution should be given. That is the reason for this principle having been created. 413 Obviously, a caution can be a trap if one's failure to explain could later he made the subject o: adverse comment.
I am taking this at a gallop, and very superficially, because of the time.
We should now, I believe, be asking whether, subject to the very important question of reliability of the record that is made, the conditions still remain which require the dice to be loaded in a criminal case so heavily against the prosecution. Reliability is terribly important, not only for the obvious reason of fairness, but because an opportunity to produce a falsified record of a statement provides an unscrupulous policeman—and there are, unhappily, a few of those—with a means of strengthening the prosecution case, just as it provides an unscrupulous criminal—there are very many more of them—with a means of impugning the integrity of a police witness.
Examples of each kind of abuse are fresh in most of our minds. I dare say, from quite recent cases, with the result that in certain parts of this country it is very difficult to obtain a conviction if the only evidence for the prosecution is police evidence. I suspect that that is in part due to what I have described.
Again, the immense backlogs of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border spoke, of people waiting to come on for trial in custodii, the remanded prisoners waiting fo: months on end in many cases, are added to, to some extent, by the delays caused by trials within trials, when the truthfulness or voluntariness of a statement or confession is fought out.
With today's technology, surely we could construct a system of taping every interrogation in such a way that falsification, were it done, would be detected. Whether one has a double tape with an automatic time signal spoken into it, and a copy handed sealed to a senior police officer in the presence. of the defendant, I cannot believe that it is beyond our wit today to ensure that one has a reliable record made.
In 1972 the Criminal Law Revision Committee, after years of deliberation, re-commended a new and appropriate form of caution and recommended that one should be able to comment at the trial upon the failure of the accused to give an explanation if he did so subsequently. 414 Justice, in 1969, reported that there should be an examination before a magistrate. It was thought that the time was ripe to abolish this privilege of an accused to keep silent before his trial without fear of adverse comment.
I do not go along with the examination before a magistrate. However, the point is that both of these bodies were in favour of doing away with the tight to silence as we now know it and have known it for so long. The reason, I believe, is that the right to silence as we now know it has arisen from blemishes which were very grave 100 years ago, and a little more recently, and which we have now got rid of.
It used to be said that the forms of action had been abolished but they ruled us from their graves. There is no reason why the blemishes which gave rise to tite right of silence, as we now know it, should rule us in turn from their graves.
I hope that we shall hear from the Minister of State that the Government are now looking, and that the whole House will be looking shortly, at the present extent of the right to silence and the contribution to the fight against crime that its abolition would make.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. lain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
I shall direct my few brief remarks to the very serious question of the soaring crime rate in Scotland. 1 do so because, bad enough as I understand the crime rate down here to be, it is, if anything, slightly worse in Scotland. Indeed, Scotland has the dubious distinction of having the highest male prison population per capita in Western Europe. Scotland also has the smallest number of women in prison per capita. I do not know the reason for that, but anyway, we have the greatest number of men in prison per capita.
Before I make four very specific suggestions as to what we can do to lower this crime rate, I want to make one or two background remarks. First, I sense that the House of Commons—and no particular party within it—is very badly out of touch with the feelings of the country at large on the issue of crime. Like most hon. Members, during the Summer Recess I addressed several dozen meetings up and down the country, and almost without exception when the question time 415 came around the first question was "What are you going to do about violence and the lack of law and order? What are you going to do about the fact that football hooligans can get away with smashing up shop windows, with terrorising people on trains and with getting drunk at football matches, and about the fact that old age pensioners today are too frightened to go out after dark?
I do not know whether that is special to Aberdeen or Glasgow, but I can assure the Minister that there is not a single old-age pensioner in my association who would go out of her home alone after dark and travel on the buses in Aberdeen. If that is true of Aberdeen, the situation must be far worse in other parts of the country. It is a shocking development. It was not the case five years or so ago. It is the duty of this House to do something about it.
I want us to move away from this easy-option attitude towards crime and to move back to common sense. We want more common sense and less of this fancy sociological approach. I thought that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) was going to produce that old chestnut about the chief deterrent to crime being detection. I am glad that he did not. It is no use detecting a crime if the offender is not punished as a result.
In Scotland there was a case recently of a raid on a big store. Within 24 hours the police had picked up four men. Every one of them was already out on bail, and one was on bail for the third time. Detection in that case meant nothing.
Let us consider the number of children in Scotland who go before children's hearings we are no longer allowed to call such youngsters juvenile delinquents. They thumb their noses at the law because they know that they will be given merely a pat on the head and put under supervision or sent to a List D school. Too often there are no places in List D schools, so nothing happens to them.
We must return to common sense and recognise that in some cases there must be an element of punishment. Without punishment, detection is, in the case of hardened criminals, completely useless.
I come, thirdly, to the phrase about offender-oriented punishment. I am 416 against it. I believe that we should pay far more attention to the victim and tar less to the criminal. I do not advance that as a populist theme. We may attempt to weigh up whether a crintinal is divorced, whether he has an hereditary inclination to drink, whether his girl friend left him two nights before, but we would find it very difficult to come to a balanced decision. It is not given to us to make balanced decisions on these matters. But even if in that way we do a kind of justice to the offender, we are doing an injustice to the person who was robbed, beaten up or whatever.
A recent classic example of what I have in mind acquired some notoriety in Scotland. A youth kicked a policeman half to death. The youth was caught and convicted but he was told that he was going to be let off because it was his first offence. That may or may not be justice. It may be mercy to the offender, but it is injustice to the police constable. It is also an injustice to me as a member of the public and I know what other members of the public think about it, too. One man's mercy is another man's injustice. We must think more about justice to society as a whole and less about trying to find excuses for the criminal. In other words, we must make the punishment fit the crime. That must be the key element.
I do not say that the circumstances of the offence or the offender should not be taken into account. but they should not be the major or prime part in any decision. The most important thing is justice for the community not mercy for the individual.
I return to the four specific points. First, we should pay the police more. So much has been said about that that I need elaborate no further. But I was surprised that there was not more fuss in the country when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced last week £20 million more for overseas aid and only £9 million more for law and order. We are off our heads. By all means let us be generous to other people, but not when we are having to cut back on our own services and certainly not when we have the cases of the police and the firemen so poignantly before us.
Secondly, I recommend that we scrap the present system of children's panels in Scotland. I know that a lot of good 417 people are involved as well as a lot of good ideas, but the system is not working. There has been a rise of about 30 per cent. in juvenile crime and that is an appalling indictment of our situation. I do not think that this system will work until the children's hearing system has, in addition to what it has at the moment, the power to punish.
First, there should be shock detention centres for juveniles ; second, vandals must make good that which they vandalise and, third, I would suggest that their parents ought to pay. Let us bring back some sense of family responsibility into cases where persons under 16 vandalise public buildings and so on.
Again, this is something which seems to be slightly unfashionable in this House, although I would guess that it is 95 per cent. fashionable in the country at large. I do not know why there should be this gap between the House of Commons and the country at large. I should like to see far tougher sentences in many cases. I am not talking about the drunks, inadequates, or the mentally ill. We know that they should not be in prison, but it is surely ludicrous that one can get greater punishment and larger fines for technical motoring offences than football hooliganism. Why should that man in Glasgow who kicked the person half to death get off with nothing while a woman can get sent to prison for failing to display her tax disc on her car?
§ Mr. Sproat
It is true. The Secretary of State for Scotland is present and he will tell the hon. Member of the shocking things in Glasgow. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman is just out of touch with what people feel is wrong with the country today.
§ Mr. Johnrose—
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to reply. I have only one final point to make. I believe that until we have a restoration of capital punishment we shall continue to see a shocking rise in the number of murders.
The fact is that between 1945 and 1965 there were in Scotland on average only three murder convictions per year. Last year the number was 63. Do not let anyone try to tell me that a r se from three to 63 is totally divorced from the fact that 418 in a certain year capital punishment was abolished.
I very much hope that the next Conservative Government will restore capital punishment for an experimental period of 10 years in order to see whether it has any effect in cutting down this appalling crime rise in Scotland.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
I shall endeavour to be very brief. The last person that I want to upset is my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). I shall endeavour to share the remaining time with him—
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
Indeed, I am in fear and trepidation of the Chair. I am deeply obliged to the Minister of State for containing himself and not interrupting in recent speeches. I am also obliged to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) for making half my speech for me. That enables me to be even briefer.
It had been my intention to make a speech about detection, conviction and sentencing. In view of the brief time at my disposal, I shall confine my remarks within those brackets. However, a great deal has been said already about the police, and it would be repetitious of me if I were to continue on that theme. But I have to say that to reach the state and the time where a Home Secretary is howled down by members of his police force does not exactly advertise good government. I do not take the matter further, but it is lamentable, although there has been a considerable lead up to it and a number of arguments can be made about it.
Still on the theme of the police and convictions, I am surprised that only one hon. Member so far has reminded the House that convictions for assaults on the police now run at 12.500 a year, of which about 4,000 are serious. When I was practising at the Bar, in my experience magistrates' courts were extremely lenient when it came to sentencing for assaults on the police. My information is that that trend is still prevalent.
419 On the subject of police forces and detection, I say a word first about private police forces and their standards. Anyone who has participated in a prosecution for an offence in the London Docks will know what I am talking about when I say that standards there, in the transport police and, for that matter, in the private police force responsible for Heathrow before the Metropolitan Police took over, have been lamentable. There are different standards in regular police forces from those obtaining in private police forces, and the Home Office should be conscious of them.
It is not my role this evening to discuss the overall control of the police. I appreciate that regional crime squads have made an important contribution up and down the country. However, country forces are under their local czars, and the Home Office traditionally is reluctant to intervene. The Home Office is not a Ministry of the Interior. However, this highlights another facet of the confusion amongst the public. The Home Office is reluctant to take a lead, and there is confusion about responsibilities, because the Department is only part responsible. The courts come under the Lord Chancellor's Department, and there is the additional figure of the Attorney-General hovering in the background. The result is that no sufficient lead is given when it could be given. The Home Secretary should give it.
As for police public relations, it may be that at some time in the future we in this House will have to consider the Blennerhassett Report, although this is mainly a transport matter. However, police public relations are seriously impaired by the way that the police have to deal with motoring matters. The last thing that I ever want to see is the police lurking around the corner from a pub and random-breathalysing members of the public. That would do more harm to the relations of the police with the public than almost any other possible change.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells made an important point about trials. The rules were designed for the last century when people were largely unrepresented and did not even give evidence. Those same rules operate today when we have the 420 advantages of the legal aid system, and virtually all accused people are legally represented in the courts.
The point about the caution has been made, and I endorse what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells said. There are other piecemeal examples of good steps in the right direction. Majority verdicts is one. The way that jury challenges have been reduced is another. However, 1 wish to mention one specific example, and it concerns the right of the accused person to make a speech from the dock without going into the witness box and being cross-examined. It is being used to make all sorts of accusations against the long-suffering police force. When the Crown's case ends, the accused simply makes a speech from the dock and no one goes into the witness box. As a result, his character cannot be put in, because usually he has a criminal record. Again, that cannot be commented on by the prosecution.
That is an abuse of our system, and it is an example of various matters which should be gone into in a thorough examination, with action being taken upon them.
The system of prosecution in this country needs examining. I appreciate that the Home Office is concerned about this. Outside the office, of the Director of Public Prosecutions the Metropolitan Police and certain major authorities, standards vary greatly throughout the country. Certain smaller authorities do not even have a prosecution department. In the old days I acted for them when cases were farmed out to some solicitor who had no experience whatever of criminal prosecutions.
There is an amateur syndrome which percolates through the legal system and lawyers when it comes to dealing with crime. The Bar and the bench are both guilty of this. Barristers are shoved into a criminal case, often without experience, on the basis that it is bread and butter. Judges are assigned to criminal work when often—and this applies to the Court of Appeal and the highest courts of the land—they have no experience whatever of criminal work. I do not think that I am letting any cats out of the bag if I say—and I hope some of my hon. and learned Friends will agree with me—that the number of High Court judges who 421 can conduct properly and well a major criminal trial is somewhat limited and very much beneath the total number of those learned gentlemen.
The magistrates' courts are the most important sentencing courts because they cover the majority of first offenders and the vast majority of crime. There are various debates, and submissions are made about democratising the magistrates' courts. I say "Enough is enough ". If anything we need more authority for those courts to enable them to stand up to the bureaucratic mass of reports presented by everybody under the sun.
In my early days of practice at the Bar in South Wales the two best magistrates were a retired trade union leader from Tredegar and a squire from the county of Monmouth. They were people who knew how to control men. It does not matter about the type of person, but he should be a leader of his community. There are many men and women wishing to do good things and serve the community who would be better employed in the youth movement or whatever but who should not go anywhere near the bench.
I endorse everything that has been said about juvenile courts. There is an enormouse increase in juvenile crime. That is one thing. Another thing is being patted on the head and called by one's christian name. That is all part of the same routine. I have appeared in juvenile courts on a number of occasions. There is no tribunal that encourages less fear or trepidation among its customers. The only people who suffer are the unfortunate parents who have to accompany their children. If someone commits a wrong and is brought before a court, a committee or a juvenile hearing, call it what one will, he should be made to know that he has done wrong and should be treated on that basis.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
This debate has been rather interesting. There have been only two speeches which have been relevant to the subject under discussion—and that includes the Front-Bench speeches. I understood that we were supposed to be discussing the prevention and reduction of crime. I have heard little of that other than in an excellent speech from 422 my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew). Certainly the Front-Bench speakers have not spoken to the subject at all. As for my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), he gave us one of his usual excellent speeches on the advantages of a higher-paid police force but said nothing about what the police would give in return for higher pay. I hope to remedy that in the few minutes available to me.
I begin with the big subject, namely, the balance of power between the trade unions and the people. The first thing we have to deal with quickly is to try to destroy the present situation whereby large numbers of militant trade unionists can hold the people to ransom. Some 18,000 miners at Grunwick face 260 workers and we, as the people, have to pay for the 5,000 policemen who try to restrain them. What is the situation? We do not need any clarification of the law of picketing. We need a change—and a discussion now whether we need to retain this whole business of picketing at all. To establish a picket means to station men who are members of a trade union to watch men going to work during a strike over an industrial dispute—and to endeavour to deter them from their purpose.
The law has remained the same since 1875. The reason for our problems is that militant trade unionists believe, understandably, that they should restrain those going to work by blocking the picket lines. The result is a breach of the peace, with inevitable violence. All this took place at Grunwick this morning, encouraged and led, I am sorry to say, by several Members of Parliament, who have been guilty of criminal breaches of our law.
The position is as it has been estab. lished under the case of Broome. One cannot stop lorries or trucks which wish to enter premises. Under the Tynan case, it is plain that one cannot keep moving pickets across in order to prevent free access into a factory. There is no question but that the law is being broken. The problem is that the Government do not want to recognise the fact for the sake of their militant trade unionists. They cannot change the law, because they know that to give a right to stop traffic 423 is something that they cannot do and because it would result in obstruction of the highway and breach of the peace.
The law dating back to 1875 was replaced by Section 134 of the Industrial Relations Act. That gave certain immunities which were made positive by Section 15 of the 1974 Act. In substance, the law has not been changed. How are we to deal with the balance of power between the trade union movement and its militants and our people? There is only one way. There is no such thing as the democratic right of peaceful picketing—it is utter nonsense to claim that there is. It does not exist. There is a right of free speech, of free assembly, but there is no right to block the passage of people who want to go to work, and to obstruct the highway.
The answer is not difficult. It is to change the law to ensure that, in factories and every place of assembly, workers shall have the right peacefully to persuade other workers that they may strike. We should give the right of assembly within the factory by giving the right for meetings of trade unionists within the factory. In doing so, we would give the right for the art of peaceful persuasion which is proper in the modern age and is far more acceptable than the awful Socialist-Communist sort of violence led today by that dreadful Member of Parliament whose name I would shudder to mention. That is how we should prevent criminal offence in this country, and it is the right path for the Tory Party to follow.
I turn now to the question of the police. I am not interested in whether we pay them more or less. That is not their principal worry, and never was. The worry of our detectives and leading members of the police is that they should be able to serve in a manner which befits them, at the status that they deserve, and get the rewards to which they are entitled. That is what they want—no more, no less. All this repetitious stuff that we get from my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds on their behalf is not really what is important for the police and the country.
What is important for the country is that we develop the police force along the right lines. Unfortunately, over the years, that development has not taken 424 place, and three or four particular measures are needed to ensure that we have the right policy. First, in this place we need those who understand the whole question of crime and of the prevention of crime. Unfortunately, although it is a highly specialised subject. everyone thinks that he knows all about it. It is one of those subjects, although specialised and requiring experience and knowledge, about which every human being thinks that he knows, be he old or young and whether the particular problem is the death penalty or whatever.
In fact, that is not true. Parliament must ensure that it plays an effective part. What is needed is a Standing Committee on law enforcement along the lines of the Estimates Committee so that the question of improvements in law enforcement, crime prevention and the effective role of the police can be examined in the same manner as inquiries are conducted by that brilliant Committee—the Public Accounts Committee— chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann).
Secondly, the Government should provide law enforcement grants along the lines of what is done in the United States to carry into effect a nationwide plan the purposes of which can be stated as follows. The first purpose would be to recruit and train the police force. The second would be to develop the methods and provide the equipment to strengthen law enforcement. The third would be to educate the public in crime prevention, through the crime prevention officers. The fourth would be to organise and train special units to combat serious crime. The fifth would he to provide finance for other law enforcement facilities, such as grants to universities and other scientific institutions. The final purpose would be to provide for research.
If we set up those institutions, we shall, with the assistance of law enforcement grants. begin to get the pattern we need to reduce serious crime. The difficulty we have always faced has been that the general body of the police will not recognise the really important specialist functions which are needed from those specially trained for the purpose.
What, then, is the solution to the conquest of, or at any rate securing a real reduction in, serious crime over the next few years? It is the creation, under the 425 command of the Home Secretary, of one criminal investigation force for the whole country. The problem of corruption and other worries that we have had in central London—they still exist—would largely be swept away if the Metropolitan Police Force were conjoined with the police forces in the Provinces, at least as regards serious criminal investigation. The opposition has come from the inspectors of constabulary, for the reason that many of them were not ever deeply concerned in criminal investigation but were concerned in what I would call the admirable regimental duties of the police.
To achieve this purpose for the whole country it must be divided into regional area or command centres, to which a commander should in each case be posted to co-ordinate the national endeavour. The criminal intelligence centre, with its headquarters in London, would have branch offices in each provincial area. Separate recruitment would be required to take place in these areas. Provision would have to be made for the transfer from the CID to intelligence in each case as that transfer might be necessary. A separate salary structure, allowances and pension fund must be introduced.
The police forces would be able to retain a detective section locally to meet local needs and to cover the manifold range of petty crimes and criminal offences, which would not then be the concern of the national force.
There would be a residual power to call in serious offences, such as murder or group sexual offences, by the Home Secretary, and provincial forces would provide liaison officers to secure effective cooperation between the constabulary and the CID. The main striking force would concentrate upon the professional criminals, the serious criminals, and in the Provinces would bc: concentrated in particular in the centres where actual criminals are to be found—such areas as Kirby, for example, where there is known to be a high incidence of crime.
The criteria for recruitment would alter substantially. There would be an immediate measure to take in a far larger number of graduates from the universities. As the problem is a most urgent one, recruits of an older age group could be permitted to enter from other walks of life.
Take for example the Fraud Squad. At present there has to be a fraud of 426 more than £500.000 in the City before one can get a detective-sergeant to investigate. What is needed is for the police to take in accountants and those with scientific knowledge as a permanent feature, not only to provide scenes of crime personnel. but to ensure that various squads with the necessary knowledge are available to meet the needs.
The Metropolis has about a 5,000 deficiency on existing establishment. This deficiency could be taken up as could the deficiency throughout the country, and universities could offer advantages for graduates to enter a corps to carry out work of this nature. I could go on on this theme, but, unfortunately, I was called too late. I hope that some day the views that I have put forward for some time will be listened to, because this is the only way in which we shall be able substantially to reduce crime quickly in this country.
We shall not reduce crime by increasing police pay. We shall do it by the creation of highly specialised forces, not only in London but throughout the country. This is necessary to secure a large reduction in the incidence of crime, and at the same time we must alter the balance by getting rid of the question of so-called peaceful picketing and by providing modern methods of industrial management. We must change the law and the attitudes of mind in order to seek what the country needs.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
Despite what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) said, this has been a useful debate and a number of suggestions have been made which have been addresed either directly or indirectly to the prevention of crime. My hon. and learned Friend said that this subject had been ignored.
I refer to the comments made earlier by the Home Secretary accusing my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) of having been, in his speech to our party conference, "short on facts and long on emotion." I do not think that anybody could accuse my right hon. Friend of being short on facts or long on emotion today. Nor was this a fair accusation in respect of his party conference speech.
427 The Home Secretary must recognise that what my right hon. Friend was talking about was facts. It was a fact that the Home Secretary got himself into an awful mess over police pay. It was a fact that police were worried and morale was low and that something had to be done about it. It was a fact that ordinary people in this country from all classes and all walks of life were desperately worried about crime, vandalism and violence. It was a fact that there had been a steady rise in serious crime. These were all facts to which my right hon. Friend drew attention.
When we are faced with a situation in which there is a steady rise in the rate of serious crime and the British people are becoming increasingly worried, it is the duty of the Opposition to call the attention of the Government to these facts and to suggest that the Government should speed up their proposals for dealing with it.
For a long time my right hon. Friend and other hon. Friends have been making suggestions, both in print and in speeches, which together add up to a strategy which is directed to the prevention and reduction of crime. It is very difficult to get these things dealt with adequately in the Press or the media because they are concerned largely with sensation. Unless one is talking about the restoration of capital punishment for terrorism or about the restoration of corporal punishment, the media are not interested in the nitty-gritty of dealing with the practical problems that arise in this matter.
We have laid down a strategy. We ask whether the Government have a strategy. The Home Secretary's speech today did not suggest that they have. There are a number of outstanding questions to which we hope the Minister will give answers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said that he recognised, as we all do, that the proposals that have been made by hon. Members from all sides of the House would cost a great deal of money. One cannot have a police force, even one that is up to only the present inadequate establishment, unless one spends more money. One cannot improve prisons without spending a great deal of money. Almost every hon. Member who made a practical suggestion put forward some 428 proposal that would, in the long run, cost money. However, when lives and safety are at stake, it is obvious that saying that one cannot spend money because of economic policy will not carry much conviction. Nevertheless, we do not expect the Government to spend all this money at once. Indeed, one could not spend at once all the money that would be needed. We are perfectly prepared to accept that this must be a long-term programme, but we have a right to ask the Government to say what is their long-term programme.
A number of suggestions have been made about how the situation could be improved, but we have not yet received any answers. The Home Secretary did not deal with the question that has been asked not just today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border but over a period of years by a number of my hon. Friends, about the amendment of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. Questions need to be answered. Is it the Government's intention to amend the Act to restore to magistrates the power to impose custodial sentences where they believe them necessary? This power was taken away by the 1969 Act and we believe that, in appropriate cases, it should be restored. As far as I know, the Government have not yet said whether they agree with the report that was made by a Select Committee on the matter.
There are other questions relating to gaps in sentencing policy. For certain offences, courts cannot impose sentences of between six months and three years, and that presents serious difficulties to the courts. This happened in a case recently which received some notoriety.
The Home Secretary did not answer the questions that were put to him about the future of prisons. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do something about getting out of prison those categories of people who are in prison and who ought not to be there? The Home Secretary did not adequately answer the question that was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and state whether the Government have any proposals or, at least, any ideas about how to speed up the processes of the courts. It is, as my right hon. Friend said, a growing scandal that there are now in prison large numbers of people on remand who are awaiting trial 429 and who cannot get their cases heard. That is one obvious category of prisoner who should not be in prison for a long time before being brought to court.
Other questions have been raised today. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) —and I apologise that I was unable to hear all of his speech—raised a matter that has been canvassed a great deal : he asked whether the present law on the rights of accused under questioning needs at least to be looked at, if not amended.
A number of hen. Members have said that sentencing policy simply does not answer the questions raised when one asks how to deter or prevent crime. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) said, virtually, that there was no point in having a well-paid, efficient police force that detects crime and arrests criminals if all that happens is that either the criminals are let off or the sentences that they receive are not such as to deter others.
These arc the questions to which the Government ought to be addressing their minds, but the Home Secretary gave no more than a superficial answer to the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border. which has been echoed by a number of hon. Members, for short, sharp sentences of a deterrent nature. There has been a surprising amount of agreement on all sides of the House on the need for such a policy. The hon. Member for Dundee, West said it, the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) came as near to saying it as a Liberal ever comes to saying anything positive, and the hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) said very nearly the same thing ; for he said that the effect of prison on first-time prisoners was immediate and that the first week or so had a profound effect on them. This suggests that the short, sharp sentences for first offenders that we have been advocating could be very much more effective than the Home Secretary, with his slighting references to glasshouse conditions, seemed to appreciate.
The whole question of the treatment of first offenders needs a great deal of urgent thought and there is no indication that the Government have been giving it such 430 thought. Many people believe that the suspended sentence provisions of the law have been a failure.
I am not talking about trivial crimes or misdemeanours and I am not advocating any sort of inhumanity that will turn a first offender into a permanent and habitual criminal by subjecting him to long prison sentences in the company of habitual criminals. But unless we get short, sharp, deterrent sentences not just to teach the first offender something about his responsibilities to the community and the value and importance of discipline but also to deter him from trying to repeat the experience, we shall never deal with the problem of first offenders.
A number of hon. Members have raised issues that suggest that there is some confusion, especially among hon. Members opposite, about whether the law is or should be indivisible. It is the view of hon. Members on this side of the House that the law is indivisible. One cannot bend the law or excuse crimes for emotional or, above all, political reasons.
I think that I detected, particularly in the speech of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whiteheacl) and certainly in an intervention by the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), a marked inclination to say that the law could or should be varied according to the political view that someone held about the actions that took place. For example, the lion. Member for Derby, North said almost the same thing when talking of two different cases. First, he said that the National Front marches were designed to provoke fear and to intimidate ethnic groups in certain parts of our large cities and that they should therefore be banned. The hon. Member for Salford, East said that we must treat the National Front differently because it is a racist party.
When one takes that attitude, one is at the beginning of a slippery and dangerous slope. The question is not whether the National Front is a racist party but whether it is breaking the law or inciting others to break the law.
In the cases that we have been discussing, the National Front did not start the violence. It was started by Left-Wing counter-groups. No members of the National Front were arrested. If it is said that that shows that the police are 431 partial or biased, I would find that hard to believe.
The hon. Member for Derby, North was on the wrong line on this subject. I do not believe that the National Front marches were designed to intimidate and to create fear among the ethnic minorities. I have the evidence of the public remarks made by the National Front leaders to support that belief. I suspect that the marches were deliberately designed to provoke violent opposition to them from the Socialist Workers Party and other Left-wing groups which arc the chief rivals to the National Front in the authoritarian stakes.
Members of the National Front knew that if they sufficiently advertised their marches there would be a reaction from the Socialist Workers Party that would be directed towards the police. They knew that the National Front would escape without any damage to itself and that its reputation would be enhanced among certain people for having been law abiding, while the police took the full brunt of the violence that was unleashed upon them by the Left Wing.
Secondly, the hon. Member for Derby, North was also totally misguided in his remarks about the Grunwick affair. The hon. Member said that Mr. Ward had unreasonably denied workers their rights and that therefore what has happened at Grunwick was inevitable. That is no excuse for lawlessness. The hon. Member may think that it was inevitable, but was it right? Surely that is the point.
The hon. Member for Derby, North talked about double-decker buses charging pickets. He should remember that today there were about 8,000 pickets standing in such a posture that had that bus stopped it is almost certain that violence would have been offered to the people in the bus and that the bus would not have got through.
Under the law it is the duty of the police to see that people who do not want to be stopped and subjected to reasoning get to their place of work. A worker is legally entitled to do that. It is no good pretending that the organisation of demonstrations involving from 500 to 8,000 people is not designed to intimidate and to provoke violence and 432 that it will not result in attacks on the police who are simply trying to see that the law on picketing is carried out and that workers exercise their undoubted right to get to work.
§ Mr. Whiteheadrose—
§ Mr. Whitehead
I was just going to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he felt that if, for example, Mr. Ward had accepted the result of the Scarman inquiry, the kind of violent confrontations we are getting now would have been less rather than more likely. That is of the essence of the frustrations that those people feel.
§ Mr. Maude
That indicates exactly what I was trying to say. Tne hon Member for Derby, North has not grasped the point at all. That illegality becomes inevitable does not excuse illegality, because "inevitable" is a purely subjective term. The hon. Member fot Derby, North is saying that he and, no doubt, a number of trade unionists believe that Mr. Ward's behaviour made more or less permanent picketing and permanent violence inevitable. All we are saying is that violence and illegality are never inevitable if people respect the rule of law.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
Would the hon. Gentleman condemn Smith as a traitor and felon?
§ Mr. John Ellisrose—
§ Mr. Maude
I shall not give way, because it is irrelevant. I said that I would sit down at half-past nine and I shall attempt to do so.
I have one more point to make. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West virtually told us that we did not address ourselves to the prevention of crime and that we did not understand what all this was about. There are questions about the reorganisation of 433 the police force, which he went into in detail, to which I hope the Minister of State will address himself. But when it comes to the causes and the reasons for crime, I think we all have to confess that we are virtual amateurs. We are horribly ignorant. The trouble is that we either get into the hands of the psychiatrists on this subject, than which there is no more awful fate, or we are swept along on a tide of emotion on one side or the other either from those who want extreme, if not barbarous, penalties or from those at the other extreme who believe that society is the criminal and that all punishment is wrong.
Where I think we should be able to come to some sort of consensus in the House is that some of the things which we see happening today indicate a horrible failure in our schools, although I do not want to try to app.mion blame between parents and teachers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) detailed cases of mugging, violence and various kinds of mindless violence against elderly people. It is not an uncommon sight late at night to see quite young people walking along a line of parked cars and breaking off wing mirrors arid throwing them into the gutter and wrenching off radio aerials. On one occasion I saw a boy take out of his pocket a 10p piece and draw the milled edge straight along the coachwork of a large brand-new car which was standing on the kerb. He then walked off whistling. It is so impossible for normal, sensible people such as ourselves to understand the mentality which can produce that vicious, mindless destruction of property and the vicious, mindless assaults on innocent citizens that it becomes very difficult for us to know what we ought to do about it.
I cannot in my own mind dissociate this from the fact that in schools there has been a relaxing of discipline in many cases. We now have the absurd position in which the police say that they will not, they cannot, deal with the truancy problem with which the Department of Education and the local authorities cannot deal. The police are. saying "For God's sake get these kids off the street because they are making our life impossible." At the same time school teachers are saying "For God's sake keep them on the 434 streets because they disrupt our classes and we cannot teach those who want to learn."
Educationists, politicians and the law enforcement authorities must do something about this problem and come to some sort of concerted action. At present, parents do not know where their responsibilities end and those of the school teacher or even the policeman begin. That is not a recipe for a very happy or orderly society. If children are not taught at school the elementary lessons of self-discipline or the rights of the person and property of others, civilised living cannot survive in this country or anywhere else in the Western world. As long as we have—as we do still have in our schools—teachers who actively promulgate the doctrine that all property is theft, and that property rights are wrong and should not be defended, and who are unable to prevent assaults on the person within their own classrooms, we shall—
§ Mr. Grocottrose—
§ Mr. Maude
— produce a situation in which civilised living in this country becomes impossible.
These are questions that we are perfectly entitled to put to the Government, and we think that the Government must answer them. We do not ask that they produce a miracle cure overnight, but, if the Government have a strategy, for goodness sake let them tell us what it is and how long it will take. Let them give the frightened people of this country some hope again.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)
I agree with hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) that this has been an interesting debate. I think that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) misunderstood the position when he said that talk about prisons did not bear on the question of prevention of crime. The condition of and regime in prisons can have both a deterrent effect and an effect on recidivism. He was quite wide of the mark in his comment in that respect.
I applaud the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon for his search for consensus and his confession that none of us 435 has a perfect and complete knowledge of criminology or of what motivates crime in this country or, indeed, any other country.
I believe that the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) was right when he said that we shall never completely eradicate crime. We shall never do that. We are seeking the best policy in a given situation to minimise the incidence of crime.
I must take issue with the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon on one point. He appears to isolate education from the rest of society. But one cannot make the education system the scapegoat of the whole social fabric that goes towards the production of crime. There is the obvious factor of parental control and there are complications. In many large families four children can be perfectly normal, respectable and upright, but one child in that family who has had the same care as the others can turn out to be a criminal.
That poses a problem with inextricable links with the whole of society. One cannot say that by preaching moral worth coupled with harsh doses of discipline one will brine, about a radically changed philosophy towards, for example, property. The doctrine that all property is theft came from just such a rigid education system. Therefore, on philosophical grounds that would probably contradict what the hon. Gentleman said.
This debate has already shown that there arc differences not only between the parties, but within parties. Several speakers have belaboured their own Front Benches, although everybody has been united in belabouring at frequent intervals the Home Office. [HON. MEMBERS : "Hear, hear."] If hon. Gentlemen had been here to listen to some of the earlier speeches belabouring the Home Office, they might not have agreed.
It would in a sense be more comforting and easy for all of us if Britain in isolation were the subject of a crime wave, because one would have a reasonable assurance that proper diligence in this House and on the part of the Government would cure the problem. Inter- national statistical comparisons are very difficult because there are no common definitions of what constitutes serious crime. But, using caution. I can tell the 436 House that between 1965 and 1974 the number of crimes known to the police in England and Wales increased by about two-thirds. Those are alarming figures, hut over the same period serious crimes more than doubled in Canada, the United States of America, the Netherlands and in the Republic of Ireland. and they nearly doubled in Italy and Norway.
Therefore, this is a problem of international proportions. This points to the fact that somehow, somewhere, most of the ideas now being discussed have been tried out. It is a cautionary fact that they have not been proved to be successful in any environment.
I wish to make one point at the outset, because there has been confusion in the minds of a number of speakers in this debate. A distinction must be drawn between the role of the courts and the role of the Government and the Home Office. It is the duty of Parliament to lay down for magistrates and judges the proper range of punishment which they can apply in a given situation. It is not the job of Parliament or the Government, and even less is it the job of the Home Secretary, to interfere with the discretion of those judges in applying available penalties to the cases that come before them. I must tell the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who suggested that ignorance of the law was no excuse, that ignorance of laws which Parliament passed not many months ago is particularly reprehensible. He spoke of road tax offences being more severely punished than are cases of football hooliganism. I would remind him of the Criminal Law Act 1977, and if he speaks to hon. Members who served on the Committee on that Bill, he will read that he was wrong in making that point. He was also wrong in seeming to suggest that the parents of juveniles could not in certain circumstances be held responsible for the non-payment of fines by those juveniles. That situation also is provided for by a law passed in this House some months ago.
§ Mr. Grocott
Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell the House what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) was right on?
§ Mr. John
The hon. Member was right when he said "Mr. Speaker ", or "Mr. Deputy Speaker ", as the case may be.
437 The point I am trying to make is that the prevalence of the rising incidence of crime must warn us that there are no easy solutions to this problem. They will be difficult and they will often be piecemeal, and often they will not admit of the sweeping concepts asked for by Conservative Members in some of their speeches.
There have been two concepts spoken about primarily by the Opposition today. One is the philosophy of the short sharp shock, and this sort of phraseology came from the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw). In using it he referred, I think, to the original policy of the detention centre, but he will know that the phrase goes back even further than that. It goes back to the description that W. S. Gilbert gave in "The Mikado "of the Japanese execution.
Although it is fetching to see the right hon. Member in the role of the Pooh-Bah of the Tory Party, I believe that he will know and recognise very well that the original concept of the detention centre was radically transformed and has been radically transformed over many years. That transformation has been approved by the ACPS. and the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mt. Carlisle), a distinguished lawyer on his own Benches and former Minister, was a member of the advisory council that sanctioned that change.
I say this to the right hon. Gentleman. The staffs of these detention centres have warmly welcomed I he constructive work that they can do with young people in the detention centres nowadays. I do not believe that they would welcome a move away from the more constructive role that they have created for themselves. Nor do I believe, for reasons I shall suggest later, that that would be advantageous.
The second point generally made was a plea for shorter and harsher prison sentences. The right hon. Gentleman again mentioned this in his speech at Brighton. The short-term prisoners are housed in local prisons, as he very well knows. The conditions there, as hon. Members have described, are not good. The overcrowding in British prisons occurs at that end, so it is very difficult to see at first sight how much harsher such regimes could be made.
However, the point is what is supposed to be more harsh al: that level. We al- 438 ready have the fact of cell sharing and the fact that constructive work is at a premium. Do we then say to a man "You go into prison. You are housed more harshly."—whether it be by dietary restrictions, by taking tite cushions from the chairs or whatever the right hon. Gentleman has in mind when he talks about harsher policies? Then, at the end of the sentence, not having tried to fit the man for life outside again, not having taken the opportunity to give him as much constructive work as we can do, do we then say "This is the end of your sentence. Out you go."?
Does the man then not go out less fitted to take his place in society and having the very difficult adjustment back into life again with his family? Does he not. therefore, bear a correspondingly greater grudge against society? Does he not, therefore, have a much greater chance of lapsing again into the ways of crime? I want to stress to the right hon. Gentleman that harshness may sound attractive but may not be the best possible crime prevention measure.
It is often fashionable—I know that the right hon. Gentleman has done so himself on odd occasions—to talk about over-concern for the criminal and not for the victim. However, the point I am making now is practical as well as humane —namely, that the best method of preventing further crime is so to tailor the present regimes, so to gear a man's stay inside prison, that he is prepared for the gap that he will have to bridge to get back to his family and to constructive work.
If ever we surrender that for so-caned harshness, so-called giving them a taste of their own medicine, we shall be storing up trouble for ourselves, because there will be increased recidivism. Already we know that half of the prisoners who are released from prison commit further offences within two years. That is the sort of concept that must be considered rather than the Dickensian phrases used in this connection.
A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig), mentioned capital punishment. The matter was raised in a way that betokened that crimes of homicide had outstripped all other crimes in incidence as a result of abolition. That is not so.Crimes of violence have 439 increased by 170 per cent. in the last decade whereas homicide crimes have increased by only 60 per cent. That does not prove either way what the position is, but if capital punishment were a unique deterrent, the statistics would, I believe, have been far more significant.
We then heard from the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) a speech which he has made and which I have heard and responded to in the past. embodying a plea for the restoration of corporal punishment—
§ Mr. John
No. I am sure that old speeches, like old wine, are very good. However, in this central point the right hon. Gentleman's speech happened not to be particularly advantageous at the moment. We are not talking about corporal punishment remaining abolished from some soft and sentimental ideals. We ask that corporal punishment should not be restored because the evidence of the Cadogan Committee and the Advisory Council on the Penal System, which studied corporal punishment in detail, came to the conclusion that the possibilities of re-offence were greater among those who had been given corporal punishment than among those who had not. We set up Committees in this House in order to benefit from their advice. If we are to make our own subjective judgment about whether what they say is right, we might as well save our effort in setting them up in the first place.
A familiar theme of the debate centred on juvenile crime. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border both raised the matter. The divergence, if such there is, between us hinges on the small core of determined offenders. The right hon. Member said very fairly that he agreed with the whole philosophy of the 1969 Act.
I must tell the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon that it is not true that we have kept an open mind on whether we would give back to magistrates the power to sentence people to secure accommodation. We said that we did not agree with that particular recommendation when we answered the 440 Expenditure Committee. We had debates during the Committee stage of the Criminal Law Bill when we made our view very clear. That view is that if responsibility under this Act for the allocation of offenders is to be given it must be given to a single authority. We believe that the local authorities are those best able to discharge that responsibility under the philosophy of the 1969 Act.
The central point about the 1969 Act, with which the right hon. Gentleman agreed, is that the categorisation, treatment and assimilation of young people should be left in the hands of the local authorities rather than the courts. To go back on that and to give back to magistrates some of the powers they had would be going beyond the pre-1969 position.
Like the Expenditure Committee, I reject the suggestion that it is the 1969 Act that has caused a breakdown in juvenile behaviour and the consequent increase in crime. In 1975 and 1976 there were reductions in the number of juveniles convicted or warned of offences of 3 per cent. in each year.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border directed to me several questions about Lord Edmund-Davies.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
May I return to the Children and Young Persons Act 1969? I find it very difficult to accept the hon. Gentleman's point that it is not entirely consistent with the philosophy of that Act that the very small number of hardened young offenders should not he dealt with by the magistrates. As he and his right hon. Friend know, the magistrates are deeply offended that this particular power was taken away from them. So are the police, as well as many probation officers and many others connected with the juvenile courts. I cannot understand why the Government are determined to fly in the face of many of those people, all of whom are concerned with the administration of the law and all of whom feel the same way—/ believe —contrary to what the Government feel.
§ Mr. John
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in saying that all the evidence is one way. There is also an equal number who believe in the central philosophy of the 1969 Act—that it is for 441 local authorities to create the correct procedure for dealing with juveniles. We can argue about this, but I am quite clear, since at this stage of development of young people the chances of rehabilitation are greatest, that it is for local authorities best to discharge the duties of trying to turn them away from a life of crime before it is too late.
The right hon. Gentleman has rightly raised the point about secure care. I am glad that he has intervened, because it gives me the chance to tell him that over two years we have allocated a further f32 million to secure care places and at the moment an aditional 113 places are under construction. This meets a genuine anxiety without blurring the responsibility for who must prescribe these places. If the magistrates filled the places, it is as certain as night follows day that they would have subscribed the secure care accommodation in the first month of that accommodation.
I turn to the question of the police and deal with the points which the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) put to me about the Lord Edmund-Davies committee. It was asked when the Home Secretary expected the committee to report. All that can be said is that it is hoped that it will deal with these matters with considerable despatch. The negotiating machinery review is already in progress but no details have been given. That is understandable when it is realised that the committee is not yet fully constituted, although we hope to announce names as quickly as possible.
I am sure that everyone would prefer a correct result and an authoritative report rather than a fast and inaccurate report. One of the issues that the committee will consider is the cor stitution of the Police Federations. This is a longer-term study, but, although it is important, it is not so urgent ase to hold back the question of pay.
Secondly, it was asked what the Government's attitude would be to the implementation of this report with regard to pay. The Governrient are committed to accept the recommendations on pay but the Government reserve only the right to consider the phasing of the implementation.
It was also asked when the additional names of the committee would be an 442 nounced. Again I can only say "as soon as possible." We are giving this a large measure of priority.
The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds asked other questions but, with permission, I shall write to him since he is not in his place at the moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised a constituency point about Sergeant Jamieson. I shall not comment on that in detail because my hon. Friend is raising this on an Adjournment debate. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office was in his place and will have heard what has been said. I am sure that he will respond to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian in that Adjournment debate. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that representation of the Police Federation is certainly a matter which can be considered by the Edmund-Davies committee. I shall write to him further about that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) referred to Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. As was said in the Gracious Speech, we intend to repeal and to revise this by up-to-date provisions. However, we intend first to publish our proposals in a White Paper, which means that legislation is unlikely this Session. On so complex a matter—and my hon. Friend widened it from the repeal of Section 2 to an Act concerned with official information—the discussion on the White Paper will make the drafting of the eventual Bill better because it has been discussed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott), in a speech in which he managed to find few kind words for the Home Office, asked about his constituent, Valerie Waters, and the ability of magistrates to bind over witnesses. He suggested that it was all plain sailing because the facts of the case were somewhat unusual and harsh and that all powers by magistrates to bind over witnesses should he swept away by legislation.
The main use of the binding over of a witness provision is where there is, for example, a fight between two neighbours. It may be that the police have brought the case against one of them. It may be a private prosecution in which the other has not cross-summoned.
443 Since this sort of assault can, where there is a history of a feud, occupy the courts for many hours over many years unless it is checked, the chief advantage is that both the protagonists in the assault should be bound over to secure that they live next to each other in peace if not in harmony. The abolition of the power to bind over a witness would rob the magistrates of a vital power in that connection. My hon. Friends must recognise that we have to consider whether, in meeting the case to which he referred, we could do so without robbing the magistrates of a very valuable weapon.
§ Mr. Grocott
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me and for the considerable amount of work that he put in during the summer when, according to the Daily Express, we were all on holiday. But surely it is a different situation when an individual attends a court at the request of the police to act as a witness. Most of our constituents would regard a request by the police to act as a witness as being tantamount to an order. If a person can end up in prison as a result, the law needs changing urgently.
§ Mr. John
But it has to be after a refusal to accept binding over. The point which I tried to make when I said that they were matters for magistrates and that not all matters were for the Crown was that this was a matter for the magistrates, and we should lose a vital power to get rid of troublesome civil disputes if we robbed magistrates of the right to bind over witnesses.
The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Soms) asked about additional money for community service. It is essentially money for staff, as he hoped. This will enable the effectiveness of the money spent to be at its maximum. We believe, as the Opposition believes, that the community service order is one of the constructive non-custodial sentences likely not only to deal humanely with the person concerned but to avoid the possibility of re-offence.
There arc no solutions that are easy. Those who suggest that easy solutions are possible deceive people.
We shall have to continue to debate this matter, but I am happy about the serious and responsible way in which 444 we have approached it tonight, despite the differences of emphasis that we shall all that that will be continued, despite the have on this subject.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.